Financial planners expect the economy will continue to improve in the next year, according to a recent study of more than 2,000 independent planners.

“There’s a huge shift this year from last year in overall optimism from the advisors,” said Mark Schoenbeck, senior vice president of marketing for Curian Capital, the asset management firm that conducted the 2013 Curian Capital Survey. “It was a pretty big swing.”

Based in Denver, Curian has $12.8 billion in assets under management. This is the sixth year it has conducted the study.

When polled in January, 54% of the 2,088 planners who responded expressed optimism about the global economy, up from 34% a year earlier. The study polled planners from 186 firms with average assets under management of $96 million.


The study also found that 26% of planners said they are unsure of their feelings about the economy while less than a fifth of those polled said they are pessimistic.

Schoenbeck said he found the results startling given the persistence of broad-based pessimism in the financial services sector following the Great Recession. “It was just so profound that,” he said, that the results “were a little surprising.”

However, 95% said that they were either moderately or very concerned about the risk of rising interest rates to their clients’ portfolios, Schoenbeck said.

Unemployment topped the list of the economic issues that advisors believe are the biggest threat to their clients’ wealth management plans at 23%, followed by government spending (20%.) Thirty percent of respondents reported their clients also feel unemployment is the highest perceived threat to their retirement accounts, followed by market volatility at 14%.


  • Potential threats. 30% of respondents reported that their clients feel unemployment is the biggest threat to their wealth management plans, while 14% believe their clients perceive market volatility as the biggest threat. Declining Social Security benefits ranked as the lowest perceived threat for both advisors and their clients.
  • Rising Interest rates. Nearly 95% of respondents reported they are moderately or very concerned about rising interest rates and the impact this may have on the value of clients’ fixed-income investments; close to 6% were not concerned.
  • After-Tax Performance. More than 87% of respondents said that tax efficiency and after-tax performance are important aspects of the solutions they propose to clients, while nearly 9% said they were not important (4% said they were unsure). In all, 63% of advisors also said they have access to and actively use tools and strategies to reduce the impact of taxes on clients’ investment portfolios. However, more than 28% of respondents said they have access to the tools and strategies to help reduce the impact of taxes on clients, but do not actively use them.
  • Separately Managed Accounts. Nearly 27% of planners surveyed expect to increase their usage of separately managed accounts this year, while 24% said they expect to increase their usage of alternative investment products. Fixed annuities ranked as the product that advisors were expecting to increase their usage of the least (at 2.5%).
  • Alternative Investments. More than 30% of advisors said they have 10% or more of their assets under management allocated to alternatives. In addition, more than 31% of advisors report that they plan to increase their usage of alternative investments this year by 5% to 10%, and one-fifth of advisors plan to increase their usage by 10% to 15%.

Curian is a direct subsidiary of Lansing, Mich.-based Jackson National Life Insurance and an indirect subsidiary of Prudential plc, a company incorporated in England that is unrelated to the U.S. company of the same name.
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