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Financial Planning > Behavioral Finance

Not All Boomers Are Created Equal

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With the oldest baby boomers turning 60 this year, it is difficult to avoid all the attention being focused on this generation by marketers in many different industries. This is certainly the case in the financial services business today, with many companies having developed major marketing campaigns focused on this generation.

If there is anything common to these efforts, it is their failure to differentiate among segments within the vast baby boom cohort. Without such differentiation, one is left to assume that the financial needs, concerns and goals of a baby boomer with $5 million of net worth are the same as one with $50,000 in net worth, or to assume that a 60-year-old born at the very front of the boom will have the same financial attitudes and behaviors as a 42-year-old born at the very back of the boom.

Through the Phoenix Wealth Survey, now in its seventh year, we are able to examine the differences in the financial attitudes and behaviors of high-net-worth (HNW) baby boomers. In particular, we can distinguish between the “leading edge” of the baby boom (those born between 1946 and 1954) and the “trailing edge” of the boomers (those born between 1955 and 1964). One conclusion we might draw from this research is that if you want to market retirement accumulation products to HNW baby boomers, you might be better advised to utilize a rock star in his 40s rather than a celebrity in her early 60s.

The first notable difference between the trailing edge and leading edge boomers concerns the demographics. Specifically, the survey finds that younger boomers have both higher average incomes and net worth than older boomers. Upon further reflection, this can be explained by the fact that a percentage of the leading edge boomers are already retired, which tends to pull down these averages. Additionally, trailing edge HNW boomers appear, as a group, to have experienced financial success early in their working lives. They are, for the most part, too young to have achieved their millionaire status through either inheritances or an entire work career (i.e., the so-called “millionaire next door”).

Given their younger age, it is therefore not surprising that trailing edge HNW boomers are characterized by a high degree of risk tolerance in their financial attitudes.

For example, 59% of trailing edge boomers say that return on their investment is a greater priority than preservation of their assets, while a nearly identical percentage of leading edge boomers (56%) report just the opposite. In the same vein, 63% of leading edge boomers agree or agree strongly with the statement “I hate the feeling of losing money more than I love the feeling of making money,” compared with 56% of the trailing edge boomers who agree with the statement.

Perhaps somewhat surprising, given that they have longer to accumulate a retirement nest egg, is the finding that trailing edge boomers express greater concern over outliving assets and having lost time in saving for retirement than do leading edge boomers. This may be due, in part, to the fact that they have higher expectations as to what constitutes a comfortable lifestyle during retirement. Forty-six percent of the younger boomers say 100% or more of their current income would be needed for a comfortable retirement, compared with just 34% of leading edge boomers who have similarly high expectations. It could also be that younger boomers have greater concerns over the solvency of Social Security and/or their defined benefit plans at work (if they even have one!).

When it comes to their financial behavior, trailing edge boomers are more likely characterized as “do-it-yourselfers” compared with their older baby boom peers. For example, they are more likely to say that they “rarely seek professional advice when it comes to making financial decisions,” that they “make their own financial decisions regarding financial matters without consulting advisors,” or that they “do not receive advice from any advisor.”

Although the Phoenix Wealth Survey does not measure it explicitly, we might also speculate that technology plays a bigger role in the financial behavior of the younger boomers than of older boomers. Trailing edge boomers, for example, are somewhat more likely than leading edge boomers to do business with the so-called “deep discount” broker-dealers such as E*Trade and TD Ameritrade.

Finally, trailing edge boomers appear to be more confident in their knowledge regarding financial matters in general, as a significantly higher percentage view themselves as very knowledgeable compared with leading edge boomers. However, we also find that HNW trailing boomers are less likely to have both an estate plan (45% vs. 52%) and a basic will (70% vs. 83%) than their leading edge boomer cohorts. Reflecting on these numbers, one has to wonder if their tendency toward “do it yourself” financial advising is serving young boomers well.

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