That is according to the latest results from Merrill Lynch's Affluent Insights Survey, which found that just 23% of affluent investors between ages 18 and 34 describe themselves as conservative investors today versus 52% who would have used those words to describe themselves two years ago. By comparison, 23% of investors between ages 35 to 50 now describe themselves as conservative versus 45% two years ago.
The lift in optimism for that 18 to 34 age group was a positive surprise, said Ted Durkin, who heads the affluent client segment at Merrill Lynch. Some of the of that viewpoint may be coming from that age group's efforts to cut any debt that they did have, which makes them more confident going forward, Durkin said.
"To me, it's a surprise on the upside, because that's our future," Durkin said of affluent investors ages 18 to 34. "These are the future leaders of the United States and the global economy. I want them to be feeling confident and that they can achieve what they need to."
Those results come as many affluent investors-those with $250,000 or more in investable assets-are getting accustomed to a so-called "new normal" of economic uncertainty, according to Merrill Lynch's survey results. Overall, in reaction to that new normal, investors are now doing more to control their spending and lower their debt while accepting that volatile markets might be here to stay for now.
Of the 1,000 affluent Americans surveyed, 44% said they see economic uncertainty persisting. At the same time, 94% of those respondents who see a "new normal" outlook also indicated they are more prepared now to cope with economic instability; 58% said they feel more financially stable now versus one year ago.
That positive outlook comes as 45% of affluent investors said they see their financial situation improving in the next year. Of those with positive outlook, 45% said they are poised to take advantage of new investment opportunities, 36% plan to rein in their spending habits, 32% have lowered their debt levels and 26% see new career opportunities ahead.
Half of the affluent investors surveyed said they are taking charge to get more control of their financial lives. Investors are taking more than one approach to influence their financial futures. Some 33% of the survey respondents said they are living within their means while 32% are following a budget; 29% are working together with their families to make financial decisions and 28% are looking to what they can realistically achieve.
For the respondents who did not see their financial situations improving next year, market volatility was the top concern for 61% followed by 23% who said they need to continue to provide for dependents including parents and children.
Retirement also ranks as a top concern among the affluent, with 80% indicating they are not sure they will achieve goals including saving enough to maintain their lifestyle; leaving inheritance to their children; and paying off, investing in or living in the home they had always dreamed of.
Health care costs also remained a top financial concern for the third year in a row, the survey showed, with 77% of respondents overall and 83% of those respondents over 65-years-old citing it as a concern. At the same time, 44% of those surveyed said that rising costs associate with health care was the biggest threat to the lifestyle they want in retirement.
When it comes to their investments, 45% said they need help structuring their portfolios so that they can have income to live on when they retire, followed by 36% who want guidance on how much risk they should be taking on and 29% who want help coming up with plans to achieve their goals.
Those concerns can serve as an opening for financial advisors who want to reach affluent clients, Durkin said. The survey respondents mostly fell into the $250,000 to $3 million range of investable assets. Of the 1,000 affluent investors surveyed throughout the U.S., according to Merrill Lynch, at least 300 were oversampled (or deliberately selected to get a reasonably precise estimate) in areas including Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit and South Florida.
"The biggest highlight for me is the conversation as you engage with financial advisors needs to be around prioritization of goals, and not can the market outperform this or that, but what are your goals," Durkin said.
That comes as only 15% to 20% of the survey respondents said they plan to change their investment approach depending on who is elected in November.