AXA Equitable Life Insurance Company, New York, has announced results of an October 2008 study that revealed the consumer attitudes and behaviors of Americans have shifted rather dramatically in the past six months. Among the most notable results, almost eight in 10 of those polled (78%) ranked income guarantees as a top financial priority, up 16 percentage points from a similar AXA Equitable poll conducted in April.

“It’s no surprise that attitudes and behaviors have changed, especially given the period of economic instability we’re experiencing,” said Barbara Goodstein, executive vice president and chief innovation officer for AXA Equitable. “What is striking, however, is the heightened priority being placed so quickly on securing a stream of lifetime income.”

The AXA Equitable study also found that those placing a priority on protection from outliving retirement savings increased dramatically, from 59% six months ago to 71% in October. Securing protection against market conditions also increased considerably with 68% ranking it as a priority, compared to a little more than half (53%) back in April.

Other notable findings from the October study included:

Consumers Are Almost Divided Between Waiting It Out and Taking Action

The study found that slightly more than half of those polled (54%) said that they have not made financial changes, nor do they intend to do so. For the 25%of those who have thought about doing something, the actions most considered included meeting with an advisor (62%), reallocating investments (47%) or making withdrawals (24%).

Of the 21% that have actually taken action amid the volatility, 67% said that they reallocated investments, 56% bought products like annuities, life insurance and stocks, and 24% made withdrawals from 401(k) or 403(b) accounts or liquidated personal investments.

Information Found on the Web, Trust Found in Financial Professionals

The AXA Equitable study also found that of all the sources to learn about finances, almost half of those polled (48%) sought information from news and financial Web sites. Other preferred sources included newspapers (45%), financial professionals (35%) and magazines (15%).

Consumer perception shifted when polled on trust, as 61% ranked financial professionals the most trustworthy – 10 percentage points more than financial Web sites (51%) and 20 percentage points more than news Web sites (41%).

“The fact that people are using the tools at their disposal to educate themselves is very encouraging,” said Ms. Goodstein. “But more interesting is that our study also illustrates that people still view the relationship cultivated with a financial professional as invaluable and better positions them to make sound decisions.”

Women More Concerned About the Future, Men More Likely to Act Now

Among the most compelling differences along gender lines, the AXA Equitable study found that women are more concerned amid the current market turmoil about their retirement savings than male counterparts. Specifically, 84% of women polled rated having a guaranteed source of lifetime income as “extremely important,” compared to just 73% of men.

Women are also significantly more concerned about protecting retirement income from market downturn as 75% viewed it as “extremely important,” compared to just 60 percent of men.

Although more concerned than men about the future, the study found that women are less likely to make changes in response to current market conditions. Specifically, more than half of men polled (55%) said that they have reallocated money in an employer-sponsored account, compared to just 40% of women. In addition, 29% of men have either withdrawn money from an employer-sponsored account or mutual funds, or sold stocks, compared to 19% of women.

“Women are clearly focused on protecting retirement income and have been responding more conservatively as a result,” added Ms. Goodstein. “Regardless of whether you’re a man or woman, it’s important to evaluate your current financial situation and make the well informed decisions that help secure a strong financial future.”

About the Study

AXA Equitable conducted an online survey among 400 randomly chosen U.S. consumers who were between the ages of 35 to 70, with household incomes of $75,000 or higher. The research was conducted by a third-party independent research firm, OTX Research. The study was fielded in October 2008, and comparisons are made to a similar survey conducted in April 2008. Based on the size of the study sample, if the study were to be repeated 20 times, 19 times would yield results within +/- 5%.