The economy's in rough shape. The American Dream has undergone major revisions. And clients' investing goals may be out of reach. But independent financial advisors say their own firms are doing just fine.
A new survey conducted in August for Charles Schwab turned up a startling contrast: Despite significant concerns about both the equity markets and the broader economy, more than 80% of advisors define themselves as "bullish" on both their firm's profitability and assets under management. More than a third say their firms have hired new employees this year.
One possible reason: Uncertain times deliver more potential clients, and help advisors retain existing ones. Amid the turmoil of the past five years, Schwab data shows that advisors have retained 97% of assets, says Bernie Clark, Schwab's head of Advisor Services.
"The markets have inherently become more complex," Clark notes. He cites examples like U.S. regulatory uncertainty, continued fears of a Greek departure from the euro, and growing jitters over China's economy: "I don't know how individual investors do this without help."
Elsewhere in the survey, advisors express growing concern about the investing climate. Almost two-thirds say it will be "difficult" to achieve clients' investing goals in the current market, and only 34% of advisors say they are bullish on the stock market -- down from 45% in a January survey.
Meanwhile, advisors say they are planning to shift assets out of U.S. large- and small-cap stocks, and into cash and real assets. "We're seeing a premium for liquidity," says Clark, adding: "There's a conservatism that's come into the market." (Another sign of that conservative streak is bad news for the BRICs: Advisors now say Canada is the most attractive international equity market, followed by Australia and Germany.)
Advisors also express big-picture concerns about the state of the "American Dream," and the economic fate of the millennial generation. More than 80% say the American Dream still exists, but has changed materially over the last generation. (The survey didn't define the term; Clark says he thinks about it in terms of having safety, security, home, family and education.)
The group seen as most at risk are so-called millennials. More than a third of advisors said most members of this younger generation would fail to achieve the same economic status as their parents.
The survey sampled 839 advisors at independent investment firms whose assets are custodied at Schwab.