Gen Y Looking for Financial Independence, Not Traditional Retirement

Affluent Gen Y investors prefer online brokerage accounts to DC plans

Young investors are turning to online brokerage accounts to help meet their goal of financial independence, rather than traditional retirement. Young investors are turning to online brokerage accounts to help meet their goal of financial independence, rather than traditional retirement.

Affluent Gen Y investors are eschewing defined contribution plans in favor of online brokerages, according to a survey released Tuesday by Hearts & Wallets, a consumer financial research company.

The reason, the survey found, is that they value financial independence more than a traditional retirement that puts an expiration date on their career.

Almost three-quarters of Gen Y respondents with at least $100,000 in household assets said they have an online brokerage account, compared with two-thirds who have a defined contribution plan.

Hearts & Wallets surveyed more than 5,000 households for the report.

Three-quarters of these affluent Gen Y investors said they aren’t planning for “traditional retirement,” the survey found. They have short-term savings goals like vacations and emergency funds, but their long-term goal is to avoid depending on an employer for their livelihood. For example, 42% said they want to save enough money so that they can work less and spend their time doing whatever they want when they get older.

“Gen Y desires financial independence rather than retirement,” Chris Brown, Hearts & Wallets LLC principal, said in a statement. “Gen Y could become more engaged with DC plans if the financial services industry promoted more qualified plan benefits beyond saving for retirement, like tax deferral.”

Brown added that since many Gen Y investors don't own homes and don't qualify for the mortgage interest deduction, other perks like tax deferral or employer matches can be “very appealing.”

Unlike other working age segments, Gen Y respondents were the only group to be more likely to invest in a brokerage account than in a DC plan, according to the survey.

Previous surveys have found young investors to be surprisingly conservative, and this survey is no different. Hearts & Wallets found Gen Y is holding 70% of assets in cash.

“The challenge for Gen Y is many are not focused on how they save,” Laura Varas, Hearts & Wallets LLC principal, said in a statement. “Often they invest too conservatively to accrue sufficient resources for later in life. To connect, providers and advisors need to talk about financial independence and short-term goals since many Gen Yers aren’t specifically working toward a goal of retirement.”

The survey found two-thirds of affluent Gen Y respondents are willing to pay for financial advice. An earlier survey, conducted in 2013, found that younger investors want to use online tools and apps as a complement to financial advice they receive from a professional, not a substitute. That survey found they’re more likely to pay for advice once they have more stability in their lives. “They’re attracted by provider competence, credibility, and the possibility of having more successful investing. True delight comes when they perceive the provider really cares about them and understands them,” according to the report.

The current survey confirmed that younger investors are using both advisors and technology. Forty-five percent of respondents said they prefer to use technological tools as well as a professional advisor. Almost 30% said they visit online sources for financial information, and 35% use planning tools or calculators. Furthermore, 27% go to social media for information on investing or finance.

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