Clients bullish but advisers wary
As tax season unfolded and markets hit record highs, advisers said their clients’ retirement business was solid. Even so, planners indicated they themselves are slightly less confident about the outlook for stocks, according to this month's Retirement Adviser Confidence Index — Financial Planning's monthly barometer of business conditions for wealth managers.
"Clients are feeling a bit more bullish, and it is tax season, so more IRA products are being offered and accepted," one adviser wrote.
Advisers reported a 3.7-point uptick in retirement products sold to clients. Many advisers noted seasonal increases in retirement product sales are typical ahead of the April tax deadline (April 18 for 2017).
"Tax season is heating up," another adviser wrote. "More contributions to Roth/Traditional/SEP/Simple accounts are happening as clients' taxes are being filed."
However, advisers reported that fewer clients were enrolling in employer-sponsored retirement plans or opening new accounts. One adviser wrote: "Less retirement accounts were opened, but more people signed up for our services regarding retirement planning."
While clients' perceived risk tolerance rose modestly — up 1.5 points to 59.9 — the overall RACI index fell 0.7 points to 55.3. The slight dip in the composite index may reflect advisers' concerns about the longevity of the bull market, as well as uncertainty regarding the Department of Labor's fiduciary rule.
"Clients and advisers alike are concerned with the DoL," one adviser said. Another wrote: "Potential fiduciary rule changes are making me evaluate the type of business I engage in."
Some advisers expressed concern that the market rally following the election of President Donald Trump would soon lose momentum. Others said they were eager to see how the decisions of the new administration will affect their businesses moving forward.
Low rates, political turmoil causing risk tolerance to plummet.
"We are concerned that the current so-called 'Trump rally' is pulling returns forward. While we continue to expect generally higher equity prices in the near term, we believe the back half of the year will be very challenging — especially if some of the campaign promises are not realized regarding infrastructure and tax policy in particular," one adviser wrote.
Other advisers noted a stark polarization in the attitudes of their clients. "We are in a period where optimists are remaining so, and pessimists are remaining doubtful," said one adviser.
The Retirement Adviser Confidence Index is composed of 10 factors — including asset allocations, investment product recommendations, economic and risk factors, taxes and planning fees — to track trends in wealth management. RACI readings below 50 indicate deteriorating business conditions, while readings over 50 indicate improvements.