Advisors reported a slight boost in client confidence in September, even as markets continued to fluctuate after the August downturn.

These factors helped push the Retirement Advisor Confidence Index — Financial Planning’s monthly barometer of business conditions for wealth managers — up 2.6 points to 49.2. While the index remains in negative territory, advisor confidence rebounded slightly from its record low last month. Client confidence is one factor measured by the index.

Asked about September activity, advisors observed that clients were adjusting their portfolios and shifting towards equities. One advisor saw “good value” in stocks in September. Perceived client risk tolerance rose more than 7 points to 36.1, even though it remains low for the year.

Despite persistent concerns, clients raised retirement plan contributions, with total retirement dollar contributions rising 4.9 points to 57.7. One advisor said that the end of the summer season may have been partly responsible for the jump. “People are done traveling and seem to have more available to contribute to their retirement,” he wrote. Others attributed the shift to the state of the markets. “Poorly performing global markets have influenced clients to increase their fixed income allocations in their retirement plans,” wrote another advisor.

This month’s index also includes the Retirement Readiness Assessment, which asks advisors to track their clients’ retirement preparedness. The analysis tracks client-related factors, including their current retirement status, income replacement ability, dependence on Social Security and vulnerability to big economic shifts.

The data, which tracks activity over the previous quarter, shows that mass affluent clients remain at risk in the event of significant increases in health-care costs, with 63% described by their advisors as somewhat or extremely vulnerable. In other findings, roughly 18% of ultrahigh-net-worth clients were described as being somewhat or extremely vulnerable if there are significant declines in the equities market. Advisors also felt that 54% of their high-net-worth clients would be able to replace their income for a 30-year period — based either on their current portfolios or on their anticipated assets at retirement. Only a little over 30% of mass affluent and ultrahigh-net-worth clients were deemed able to replace their income.

The Retirement Advisor Confidence Index consists of 10 factors — including asset allocations, economic and risk factors, taxes and planning fees — to track trends in wealth management. RACI readings below 50 indicate deteriorating business conditions, while readings over 50 indicate improvements.

Maddy Perkins

Maddy Perkins

Maddy Perkins is the Assistant Managing Editor for Financial Planning, Bank Investment Consultant and On Wall Street.