Investors are interested in putting a portion of their IRAs toward alternative assets but lack the know-how — and often the advisors — to do so, according to a new study from PENSCO, an independent custodian for direct alternative investments in retirement accounts.

The research found that more than three in four American families (77%) with retirement accounts want to invest in alternative assets but many (44%) do not understand how to achieve that goal. 

And advisors, for the most part, haven’t been able to help.  While eight in 10 advisors say their clients have expressed interest in investing in alternative assets, only 10% of them offer that capability, according to the findings. 

Advisors find themselves stymied by the banks and brokerage firms they work for, said PENSCO CEO Kelly Rodriques in an interview. Because banks and brokerage firms do not understand the administrative requirements involved with IRAs, “they shy away from holding them even though the advisors see them as viable investments,” Rodriques said.

“Advisors across the country are struggling to deliver,” he said, because “the institutions themselves have had a difficult time being able to administer and custody these types of assets for their clients,” he said. 

Two-thirds of the advisors surveyed said that investing in alternative assets can build wealth and 82% expressed interest in providing this option to clients, according to PENSCO. The top alternative investments for both investors and advisors were real estate, precious metals and private equity, the survey found. 

The majority of assets held in IRAs are exchange-traded assets, such as stocks, bonds, options and mutual funds. These assets constitute about 95% to 97% of IRA holdings, said Rodriques.

PENSCO provides investors with services to “hold and administer direct alternative assets, such as private equity or debt, venture capital, start-up companies, real estate, unsecured notes, mortgages, foreign currency and precious metals,” it said in a statement. 

PENSCO polled 1,000 people across the U.S. from Feb. 6 – 10, 2012, and 365 financial advisors with more than $10 million in assets under management from Feb. 7 -17, 2012.  The firm conducted the survey with San Francisco-based Koski Research.