If you believe the stereotype that only relatively young people spend quality time online, you’re apparently mistaken. A new survey by Spectrem Group found that affluent Americans above the age of 70 are devoting a far higher percentage of their online time (32%) to financial pursuits than are those age 70 and younger. Furthermore, 70-somethings who have incomes of more than $150,000 a year are spending an even higher percentage of their online time (49%) on financial pursuits. “There is a group of older people that are very well connected to the Internet and a lot of their time is spent taking care of financial business while online,” notes Tom Wynn, director with Spectrem Group.

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The report–Online Tools: Affluent Use of Provider Web Sites–is based on a survey conducted in August and September 2007 of more than 500 affluent (having more than $500,000 in investable assets) investors. About half of those surveyed indicated that they will do more financial research and information-gathering online than they have in the past, with a similar proportion saying that when choosing a financial advisor, the advisor’s online capabilities are very important to them. This is good news for advisors, who can use this to their advantage and save time–Web-savvy clients can get stock information and do simple calculations using Web sites and Web tools, instead of getting that information directly from the advisor. The downside is that although online usage is increasing, the demand for Web site features and training remains. Only half of these affluent investors feel that financial services companies in general provide good Web sites for conducting business, and that these companies have more work to do when it comes to what their Web sites offer.

“Financial institutions should take advantage of the willingness of these older, affluent people to carry out financial business online,” says Wynn. He believes that advisors should not only encourage clients to use Web tools, but should also aid clients in learning how to navigate their own Web sites, as well as other financial sites these clients may use.

Give me some kind of a guarantee

According to the report, 40% of respondents say their financial services provider has encouraged them to do more online. At the same time, fewer than half of that number say their provider has actually shown them how to do it. Even more of an incentive for a financial business to improve its Web site is the fact that future generations will come to expect high-end, easy-to-navigate sites. “We see that young people that grew up with the Internet will expect these capabilities in the future, so institutions might as well start now,” says Wynn.

Spectrem’s and Wynn’s only warning about the increased usage of the Internet by elders to conduct financial business is the lack of personal communication on the part of the advisor. “As greater emphasis is placed on conducting financial services online, about half of affluent investors feel that the personal touch existing between providers and customers is being eroded,” the report reads. To boot, this finding is fairly consistent across demographic segments and actually increases as investors age. So in revving up Web sites for future generations, advisors should keep in mind that they must educate older clients on how to properly use these sites, while making sure not to lose that personal touch that clients have come to expect. “With the markets going up and down, as important as Web sites are, advisors need to be careful that they are giving the proper time and attention to nervous clients” off line, explains Wynn.


E-mail Staff Editor Kara P. Stapleton at kstapleton@investmentadvisor.com.