UPDATE 1-Wealthy clients rate Boston Private Bank top

Tue Apr 20, 2010 5:22pm EDT

*Boston Private Bank & Trust tops Luxury Institute survey

*Vanguard was highest-ranked large firm (Adds Vanguard ranking)

By Helen Kearney

NEW YORK, April 20 (Reuters) - Tiny Boston Private Bank & Trust topped bigger and better-known wealth managers as best financial adviser for the wealthiest investors, according to a survey released on Tuesday by The Luxury Institute.

Two New York-based advisory firms followed the Boston firm: Bernstein Global Wealth Management, part of AllianceBernstein Holding LP (AB.N) and Rockefeller Wealth Management, a firm that started as the oil baron's family money manager.

The bank's small size gives them an advantage over bigger firms, said William Oberlies, senior financial officer of the investment group at Boston Private Bank.

"We're able to give our clients direct access to their portfolio manager, the person actually making the investment decisions," he said. "At bigger shops you usually have to deal with a middle person."

The survey asked 505 investors with at least $5 million in net worth to rate wealth managers based on quality of service, exclusivity, the social status they bestow on their clients and other factors.

The survey also asked investors whether it was worth paying higher fees and whether they would recommend the firm to friends and family.

Boston Private, a unit of Boston Private Financial Holdings (BPFH.O), has 14 advisers and over $2.6 billion in banking assets and assets under management, according to Oberlies.

Respondents were only allowed to rate firms they were familiar with, which in Boston Private's case was 30 people.

The highest-ranking nationwide firm was U.S. Trust, the private banking unit of Bank of America Corp (BAC.N), which finished in 16th place. Wells Fargo Wealth Management Group, a division of Wells Fargo & Co (WFC.N), came in 19th place.

Vanguard Personal Investors, part of the giant index mutual fund company, ranked sixth with a 6.4 score. About 25 percent of the survey's respondents rated the company.

Bessemer Trust, last year's top placed firm, fell to 12th place. Wealth management firms need to do a better job of explaining why wealthy people should invest with them, said Milton Pedraza, chief executive of The Luxury Institute, a New York-based research firm.

"Wealthy people are fickle," he said. (Reporting by Helen Kearney. Editing by Robert MacMillan)