Given the legions of grumbling, unhappy Americans currently weathering the worst recession in decades, U.S. financial services firms fell to their lowest rating ever in the sixth annual Customer Advocacy ranking by Forrester Research Inc.

According to the survey of more than 5,000 households conducted in the second half of 2008 that charted more than 40 companies, perennial standouts USAA and State Farm Insurance still remain the highest-rated companies, former high-flyers Vanguard and Edward Jones slipped, and full-service brokerage firms such as Morgan Stanley skidded toward the bottom of the rankings.

Forrester defines customer advocacy is the perception on the part of customers that financial services firms do what’s best for them, not just the firm’s own bottom line. And the firm’s on-going analysis demonstrates that customer advocacy drives retention and deepens customer relationships. Consumers who rate their company high with regard to customer advocacy are more likely to save more, borrow more, and buy other products from that firm and are less likely to switch to another financial services company.

“Given the mistrust and anger that consumers currently have toward the financial services sector, customer advocacy has never been more relevant,” says Forrester Research VP and Principal Analyst Bill Doyle. “Customer advocacy has to be more than just a marketing message. Smart firms have used it as a guiding operating principle to win back the confidence of American consumers.”

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