Despite efforts by most financial services companies to get investors to use more online tools for financial planning, most affluent individuals still prefer to work one-on-one with a trusted advisor.
According to a quarterly study that was released Wednesday of 1,000 affluent investors conducted by Bank of America Merrill Lynch, 57% of affluent investors turn to their financial advisors for advice after making a financial mistake or financially irresponsible decision. This is the same percentage that turn to their spouse or partner. Forty-two percent consult an advisor before making a significantly expensive purchase and another 13% haven’t, but feel they should.
Lyle LaMothe, the head of U.S. wealth management for Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, said in an interview that this is one of the repercussions from the tough economy: Wealthy individuals want to deal directly with advisors that they trust.
“I think it is fair to say that when a financial event becomes significant, people don’t turn to machines, they turn to advisors for information,” he said. “They turn to people that they trust for advice and guidance when the moment is critical.”
Dean Athanasia, the head of Bank of America’s global wealth and investment management and Merrill Edge, the company’s online brokerage platform, said that financial services companies can’t expect investors to rely solely on a web-based program for their financial advice.
“No one wants to simply talk to a machine for their financial advice,” he said in an interview. “We have designed partnerships with advisors so that investors can gather information from our systems, but we back that up with licensed financial advisors. We want them to know that we are prepared to interact with client any want that they want to be interacted with.”
LaMothe said that the Internet is a “good portal for information, but investors still want a level of advice.” He said investors want more from their advisors in terms of both “communication and dialogue.”
“When the market was healthier and the economy was more robust, perhaps meeting on a quarterly or monthly basis was enough, but now investors feel that they can trust an advisor more if they speak with them more,” he said.
With such a wide range of financial concerns, affluent Americans increasingly expect they will have to delay retirement, with 45% now expecting to retire later than they had originally planned compared to 31% in the first quarter and 29% in January.
“Investors are still skeptical,” Athanasia said. “They are still seeking returns, but they have low tolerance for risk. They want to be sure that they are investing and working with advisors to proceed in the best way possible. Clients feel that the economy is coming back, but there are going to be some bumps along the way.”
Financial advisors are going to play a valuable role going forward, LaMothe said, both in terms of “educating and reeducating” young investors about the historic value in the market. According to the survey, According to the survey, 50% of affluent individuals describe themselves as having a low tolerance for risk, gravitating toward more conservative investment vehicles and strategies.
A greater percentage of investors between the age of 18 and 34, describe their risk tolerance as low (52%) than do investors between the age of 35 and 50 (45%) and those 51 to 64 (46%).
LaMothe said Bank of America’s advisors are working more closely with customers and offering a wider array of servies to help guide them through this economic cycle.