High-Net-Worth Americans Feeling "Slightly Wealthier"

Prospects for economic recovery are looking up if the attitudes of U.S. high-net-worth consumers can be credited. A significant number of respondents to the 11th annual Phoenix Wealth Survey said they were feeling more optimistic about their financial futures, while also acknowledging that their sense of personal financial security had not returned to pre-2009 levels.

The survey, which was conducted online in February 2010 by Harris Interactive on behalf of The Phoenix Companies Inc., focused on U.S. residents with a net worth of $1 million or more, not including any debt and the value of their primary home. It found that 52% now feel less wealthy than they did last year, down from 74% who reported experiencing a "negative wealth effect" in the first quarter of 2009. The change this year was driven by respondents who said they were "slightly wealthier" versus "wealthier" or "significantly wealthier," Phoenix said in an April 19 statement announcing the results.

"If our respondents' intuition about the economy is on the money, we may be able to look forward to better days ahead," said Walter Zultowski, a senior advisor for Phoenix.

In Q1 2009, 40% said they were either "very" or "fairly" pessimistic about the economy's future. That number is down to 28% this year, with increases among those saying they are "slightly optimistic" or "slightly pessimistic," the statement said.

However, only a quarter of high-net-worth respondents agreed that the recession has ended.

Phoenix said it continued to see fundamental changes in attitudes and behavior stemming from the negative wealth mentality that began in 2009. Nearly half of the affluent respondents agreed, some strongly, with the statement, "As a result of the financial crisis, I will not be able to leave my heirs as much money as I had originally planned."

They also expressed concern about paying for health care during retirement, which only added to their continuing anxiety about the possibility of running out of money in retirement and a focus on maintaining their style of life.

Respondents with a written financial plan reached an all-time high in 2010, Phoenix said-44% compared with 39% in 2009. And 79% said they regularly receive professional financial advice, up from 73% last year.

Michael S. Fischer (msf7@columbia.edu) is a New York-based financial writer and editor and a frequent contributor to Wealth Manager.

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