Just under 50% of Americans surveyed by Fidelity Investments, regardless of age, say they are conservative when it comes to retirement savings, the company found in a study.

Participants from Generation Y, for instance, hold an asset mix of 50% stocks, 35% bonds or annuities and 15% cash, similar to Generation X and baby boomer respondents. Fidelity polled 595 employees at higher education institutions last February and March for the study, the “Higher Education Generational Survey.”   

For financial planners, it means they might have to work a lot harder to get younger investors to recognize the value of investing in stocks, according to Robert Siefert, a principal of Modera Wealth Management.

“Younger folks have not experienced the positive disparity we would expect between stocks and bonds,” Siefert said in a telephone interview. “In their lifetime, they have not seen those benefits. It is theory to them.”

The principals at Modera Wealth Management say it is important to plan within the tolerance levels of their clients, Siefert said. For younger investors, that means taking a measured approach to getting young people to see the benefits of investing in stocks, and adjusting their holdings accordingly.

Get those younger clients to step away from cash gradually, even if that means putting 25% of their portfolios in long-term equity investments, Siefert said.

“It is hard, really hard,” Siefert said. “And it is hard to deny what they are seeing is real.”

Financial planning firms face another challenge when it comes to younger clients — getting them in the front door in the first place. The study found that 54% of Generation Y respondents rely more on friends and family and another 41% use online planning tools to learn about retirement savings. Generation X respondents, by contrast, rely mainly on educational materials from employers, (37%) and online Websites (36%) for retirement savings guidance. Among baby boomers, 42% sought guidance from financial professionals and 37% leaned on employer-provided educational materials.

“It creates some degree of long-term risk for the sustainability of the profession and for firms,” Siefert said.

Modera Wealth Management tries to mitigate that risk to its own firm by persuading existing clients to recommend their services to their children and grandchildren, Siefert said. Another challenge is reaching potential clients under 40 who have never used a financial services professional, he said.

“What else would cause a 25- or 35-year-old to seek firms like ours out in the first place?” Siefert said. “It is a common challenge many of us are looking at right now.”