Even before the events surrounding the U.S. debt ceiling deal and downgrade, affluent investors’ concerns about how long their retirement assets will last was rising, according to a new Bank of America Merrill Lynch survey conducted in June.
Of the 1,000 individuals with more than $250,000 in investable assets that participated in the semi-annual survey, 66% said they are more concerned about their retirement assets lasting through their life, an increase from 57% in January, while 54% now worry they cannot afford the retirement lifestyle they want, up from 46% in the beginning of the year.
In June, the survey participants cited concern about political and economic events, as 81% said the national debt contributed to fears tied to the longevity of their retirement assets. Ongoing budget battles on Capitol Hill worried 73% of respondents.
Other concerns topping the list included upcoming presidential primary and general elections concerning 67% of respondents; rising commodity prices, 63%; inflation, 57%; real estate market, 53%; the economy’s affect on the ability to meet financial goals, 53%; unemployment rates, 46%; and rising interest rates, 38%.
Polling for the survey, called Merrill Lynch Affluent Insights, was conducted by marketing and public opinion research firm Braun Research Inc. from June 7 through June 21. The survey included affluent Americans in all age categories. At least 300 respondents were from Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
The survey is the latest public update from Merrill Lynch, which has aggressively worked behind the scenes to update its financial advisors in real time as market conditions have become more opaque in recent weeks, Bank of America Merrill Lynch Head of Personal Retirement Solutions David Tyrie said.
The results of June’s survey point to rising cross-generational concerns from rising college tuition costs to health care costs past retirement. Those concerns, in turn, are affecting how clients choose and work with financial advisors.
“It’s a group that is very, very focused on what’s happening in the marketplace, what’s happening within their own portfolios and what’s happening within their own families,” Tyrie said of the affluent investor set. “That’s what really jumped off the page to me with this study.”
From College Tuition to Senior Care
Affluent parents surveyed said they are talking to their children about money sooner, with 57% starting before their children are 12, and 85% before they reach 18. Mothers, in particular, took a more active role in those discussions, with 64% of mothers versus 46% of fathers initiating talks with children under 12. Before the age of 18, 90% of mothers began talking about money with children, versus 76% of fathers.
Those talks with children may be influenced by the parents’ own regrets. Forty-six percent of respondents indicated they regret the financial decisions they made as newlyweds. That included 20% who wished they had saved more for retirement, 18% who feel they should have saved more for a retirement fund, 15% who indicated they should have budgeted more and 10% who wish they had paid off more debt.
Of the parents working with a financial advisor, 64% said they have shared some form of that advice with their children, which Tyrie said he took as a good sign.
“I’d love to see this whole notion of parents and financial advisors teaming up to help the next generation, and that’s what we’re really focused on here,” Tyrie said. “I think that is the right solution for America, really.”
More parents said they plan to shift the responsibility to pay for education to their children, with 47% indicating they have not or will not pay for the full costs of college. At the same time, 82% of parents said they would or are providing their children with temporary financial support in early adult years, with 55% willing to let children live at home, 41% willing to pay for health insurance and 34% willing to contribute to living expenses.
Concerns about college are prompting Americans to save earlier for college, with 60% of parents between ages 35 to 50 starting accounts before birth or in their child’s first year. By contrast, just 15% of parents age 65 and older indicated they began saving for college then.
Paying for the rising cost of health care is also weighing heavily on the minds of affluent Americans, the survey showed, with 70% rating it as a top concern, including caring for aging parents and providing them with financial assistance. Just 47% of survey respondents age 65 and older were able to correctly identify costs that Medicare Part A covers.
Of the respondents, 45% have a long-term care funding plan, while 11% said they are creating one. Most affluent individuals, or 56%, expect to retire without the help of an inheritance, with 75% investing without the expectation of inheriting money.
Working with a Financial Advisor
As affluent Americans indicated concern about rising costs, 81% rated their financial advisor’s understanding of their financial situation as a reason to continue working with them. Other priorities that kept that relationship in place include putting the clients’ interests first for 78% of respondents, understanding personal values and goals, 71%; and the ability to advise specifically to a family’s circumstances, 67%.
When choosing a financial advisor, 49% said they interview two or more advisors before making a final selection, while 38% said they talk to three or more. Factors that contribute to making that choice include an financial advisor who gets to know their needs, with 60%; followed by accessibility, 49%; a good personality, 47%; variety of investment and banking solutions; 46% solid track record, 43%; and experience with similar clients, 42%.
Many survey respondents, or 78%, also said they prefer when financial advisors use everyday language versus complex financial terms, while almost 23% said they have pretended at one time to understand what their financial advisor was saying.