Millennials have been stamped with a risk averse label, especially when it comes to money. But how can financial advisors help this generation overcome their fear of investing?
It can be challenging for a planner to change how a younger client thinks about risk.
Indeed, a 2017 survey by broker-dealer Legg Mason Investor Services notes that 85% of millennials say they have a conservative risk tolerance. Of that total, 52% identify as “very conservative.” Comparatively, less than a third of the baby boomer investors surveyed by the firm said they would describe themselves as “very conservative.”
But why should this particular generation of people — ages 21 to 36 — have such an aversion to risk, investing and the markets?
The fear stems from having lived through two major global, economic crashes. Millennials saw the dot-com crash impact their parents and felt firsthand the sting of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, which started in 2007 and 2008.
“Millennials’ exposure to bubbles has caused them to be tremendously risk-conscious,” explains UBS advisor Marielle Schurig, who works with high-net-worth millennials and has almost a decade of experience in the industry, according to FINRA BrokerCheck records.
“When it comes to investing, many millennials sit on the sideline, trading risk for safety and performance for the comfort of cash,” she continues. “They are not ready to change their behavior and jump into the market head first.”
Advisor Austin Colby, of the Raymond James affiliated firm The Wealth Group, agrees with this assessment. Colby is a 15-year industry veteran, according to BrokerCheck, who works with millennial clients across a range of incomes.
“Almost every millennial that’s come to us initially [is] cash heavy,” Colby says. “They aren’t investing like they should and they have really tepid projections for future stock market returns.”
However, Schurig has embraced an approach to combat this fear by changing how her millennial clients view investing and managing their finances. She takes what she calls a “wellness approach” by helping her clients to understand that overall health is more than just physical.
“You have to look at financial health as wellness,” Schurig tells her clients. “And you need to look at it as self-care … because your finances are the foundation of your whole life and it’s going to be there whether or not you want to pay attention to it.”
For advisors, the goal is to create a link to a client’s commitment to physical health and social goals, as well as the need to actively manage their finances and investments.
Millennials are more dedicated to wellness than previous generations, data from a 2015 Goldman Sachs report shows. They are devoting time and money to exercising and eating right, while pursuing an active lifestyle. And, they’re socially and environmentally conscious. With this in mind, an advisor can take negative thoughts and assumptions a client might have about investing and alter how they look at it by making it a part of an established and positive part of their self-care and their personal values.
“When you think about wellness it’s not only physical but also mental,” explains Daniella Fischel, a senior associate at TRAUB, a global development group that recently completed a study on millennials and wellness in relation to the different brands that offer services in that space.
“[Wellness] fits in many ways with millennials looking for experiences as opposed to just purchases,” Fischel continues. “And when you think of an experience a lot of that often is fitting into wellness: going into a special type of workout class, or learning how to cook with a lot of these meal delivery programs, or going on a yoga retreat.”
Colby also sees the value of a wellness approach when connecting with millennial clients. In fact, his firm is on the cusp of launching a subset service that will combine finance and fitness in relation to client goals.
Fitness and wellness are important to Colby’s client base; one of his high-net-worth millennial clients recently took a three-month sabbatical from his job at Google to spend that time biking across America.
“You see how valuable it is that you bike and you work out and you eat clean and all that,” Colby says to his clients. “It’s the same thing in finance. If we just focus on the things we have control over that we know are going to make us healthier, we should have more peace in our life in the area of finance.”
Schurig gave the example of a millennial woman with whom she recently began working. This client is a member of the younger segment of the generation; after graduating from college she began her own business.
Additionally, this “vegan hippie girl” as Schurig described her, will one day inherit her family’s vast wealth. In fact, the client’s mother, who had already been working with Schurig, had asked the advisor to start having conversations with her daughter about what to do with all of this wealth early on.
“I talked to her about overall wellness and that really resonated with her,” Schurig says. “We started investing in things that she was interested in.”
Being a vegan, this client wasn’t going to invest in something like a McDonald’s so she and her advisor built a portfolio that included investments in companies that aren’t harming animals. This client is also a feminist and her portfolio includes investments in companies with women in leadership.
Giving purpose to a portfolio helps get the client, especially millennials, more involved.
“You give investing and money meaning to their life,” Schurig says. “Then you tailor a portfolio that’s meaningful to their goals and their values and what they value in the world.”