Online financial management tools may have caught the attention of younger investors in a way that the mutual fund supermarkets of the 1990s took invesors of all ages by storm - but a recent survey by Capstrat-Public Policy Polling suggests the Internet is a long way from gaining everyone else's trust.
The survey, whose results were released late last month, said that Americans still predominantly go to traditional professionals, such as financial advisers, accountants and bank representatives, for money management guidance.
Capstrat contacted 420 Americans by phone on June 23 and 24 and found that 62% of respondents thought certified public accountants were the most reliable advisers. Bank representatives got 52% support, and financial advisers got 51%. Respondents were allowed to choose more than one.
About 4% of respondents said online forums were their "most influential" source of financial advice.
The results did not surprise Mark Matson, the founder and CEO of Matson Money, a network of financial advisers and investment coaches that manages $2.5 billion in client assets.
"Financial advisers have been making some headway with consumers," Matson said. "Other research shows that entrepreneurs are among the most trusted people in the economy, and independent advisers are entrepreneurs."
Matson Money bases its operations on a disciplined investment approach and uses media tools like social networking sites and video blogs to communicate with advisers.
Capstrat, a Raleigh survey company, did not ask its respondents what they thought about other Internet resources, like blogs, webinars or research tools on company-specific sites. Instead, it focused on tools that people said they were likely to use, said Ken Eudy, the North Carolina company's chief executive officer.
Among respondents who used online tools, Capstrat found that 48% of the so-called millennial generation consider Google searches to be the most influential for financial advice. Also, 43% of this group said they use online forums. At the same time, 50% of respondents in the group gave financial advisers the highest scores for reliability.
"It was astonishing to me," Eudy said. "This young cohort still likes financial advisers, and go[es] to the bank. They also like to use Google searches to see what else is out there."
Matson said he is dubious about online forums as reliable financial information sources for anyone. "You might as well walk up to someone on the street and ask them what they think," he said.
That CPAs came out ahead of other professionals in the Capstrat survey did not surprise him, Matson said. Americans see them as well-educated advisers who offer unbiased feedback without having to sell products. The fact that bank reps placed ahead of financial advisers is a sad comment on the trust that financial professionals have lost among Americans, he said.
The deceitful advisory practices of former financiers Bernard L. Madoff and Allen Stanford remain fresh business stories. Madoff and Stanford inflicted damage on advisers' reputations, which might have affected their standing in the Capstrat survey, Matson said.