Recent financial and economic turmoil has had a notable impact on high net worth Americans, with 74% saying they feel less wealthy than they did a year ago, according to a new study by Phoenix Companies Inc., Hartford.
In comparison, a similar Phoenix Wealth Survey in 2008, in the early part of the recession, found only 47% felt less wealthy than they did a year earlier. A Phoenix study in the relatively benign economy of early 2007 found just 19% of wealthy Americans felt they weren’t as rich as the year before.
The study, the latest of 10 annual surveys Phoenix has done among American households with a net worth of at least $1 million, found only 26% felt wealthier than they were in 2008. That was down sharply from 54% who felt wealthier in the survey of early 2008 and 81% in early 2007.
The 2009 Phoenix Wealth Survey findings are notable because they take in the reaction of wealthy Americans to a deepening recession and the decline of the stock market. The latest study, completed in February, was conducted via the Web among more than 1,700 affluent households by Harris Interactive Inc., Rochester, N.Y.
Among a number of striking trends found by the survey was a drop in the proportion of wealthy Americans who do not receive advice from a primary financial advisor. In fact, the number of those using any type of advisor also declined.
Phoenix found 36% of affluent Americans in 2009 did not have a primary financial advisor, down from 41% in 2008, while 27% did not receive advice from any advisor, down from 33% the year before.
However, the responses to the advisor question in 2009 were still above the levels of a few years ago. In 2006, for instance, 33% said they did not have a primary financial advisor, while 22% said they did not receive advice from any advisor.
Of those who said they had a primary financial counselor in 2009, 85% were satisfied with the advisor, down a bit from 2008, when 89% said they were satisfied.
Yet more respondents than before who had a primary financial advisor said they might be looking for a new one in the next 12 months–13% in 2009, up from 8% the year before.
Of those who were looking for a new primary advisor, unhappiness over investment returns was cited by 38% as their reason for looking elsewhere, which was actually down from 2008, when 42% said this. The advisor’s failure to actively stay in touch was a problem for 37%, up from 26% the year before.
Those who felt the advisor’s fees were too expensive rose to 36%, from 31%; while those who said the advisor was not offering the financial products or services the investor needed rose to 31%, from 16%. The proportion who said they did not like the advisor’s company was 27%, up from 20%.
Half of wealthy investors have been in touch with their advisor about the recent market volatility, Phoenix found, with 27% saying their advisor had initiated the contact and 23% saying they had contacted the advisor first. Of the remainder, 35% said they had not spoken with their advisor as a result of the financial meltdown, while 16% did not have a financial advisor.
Walter Zultowski, a senior vice president at Phoenix, says he believes many wealthy Americans are looking to change their advisor because of unhappiness over the downturn–a fact compounded for advisors who have neglected to stay in touch with them in good time as well as bad.
When times get tight, the quality of advice as well as fees become more of a concern for many, he says.
Investors will remember advisors who stay in touch them, Zultowksi observes. “Advisors must avoid being commoditized.”
Not surprisingly, participants in the latest survey were feeling less upbeat than they did in previous years about how well the economy will fare over the next 1 to 2 years.
Phoenix found 59% in 2009 described themselves as pessimistic about the immediate prospects for the economy. This includes 16% who said they were “very” pessimistic. In 2008, 50% said they were pessimistic, with just 7% describing themselves as very pessimistic. In 2007, 30% described themselves as pessimistic and just 4% as very pessimistic.
Despite the recession, wealthy Americans’ views of their financial future and tolerance for risk remained strong, Phoenix found.
For instance, asked how they felt about their own financial futures, 70% described themselves as optimistic, with 17% saying they were “very” optimistic and 53% “somewhat” optimistic. This was down from 83% who said they were optimistic in 2008–25% “very” and 58% “somewhat.”
The economy has also made quite a few wealthy Americans more conservative in their investments. Although 30% claimed their level of risk tolerance hadn’t changed in the previous 12 months, 40% said they were more risk-averse, on top of another 10% who were “much more” risk averse.
Moreover, 50% said they have been confused lately about how to invest their money, compared to 32% last year and 26% the year before.
Investment concerns were also shifting, with 59% of participants agreeing it’s important to preserve the safety of their capital, even if it means earning less than before, compared to 53% who felt the same way in 2008. Only 41% said it was important to try to get a substantial return on their capital, even if it means taking risks, compared to 47% who felt that last year.
Phoenix also asked participants about their most important financial goals.
Assuring a comfortable standard of living in retirement was cited as most important by 41% in the 2009 survey, which was actually down a bit from 44% who said so in 2008. In addition, 25% said assuring they would not run out of money in retirement was their most important financial goal, up from 21% the year before.
Asked how the recent decline in their wealth has affected their thinking about retirement, 45% said they were concerned about outliving their money in retirement, up from 36% in 2008. Also, 44% said they were very concerned they would have to modify their current lifestyle when they retire, up from 37% a year earlier. In addition, 34% in 2009 said they thought they had to make up for lost time in saving for retirement, compared to 28% who felt that way a year earlier.
Asked to list their top concerns as they approached or passed through retirement, 51% said their biggest fears was that poor investment performance would diminish their assets, up from 39% in 2008.
The risk that inflation could erode the value of their income was a concern for 50%, the same as in 2008, while 44% cited the risk of being unable to live comfortably on their available level of income or that their assets would deplete too quickly, up from 40%. The risk of outliving their assets was a concern for 40%, up from 35% the year before.
Asked to describe what they would consider a comfortable standard of living during retirement, 21% said that would be possible with less than 80% of their current income, about the same as in the previous year, while 37% said they thought they would need 80% to less than 100% of their current income, down from 40% in 2008.
Yet 29% thought they would need to maintain 100% of current income, up from 25% in 2008, while 14% said they would need over 100% of current income, up from 12%.
In 2009, 53% said they had become more concerned they would have to modify their lifestyle in retirement. In addition, 19% said they now expect to retire much later than previously planned as a result of the market downturn. (These questions were not asked in the previous surveys.)
Wealthy Americans surveyed have put more money into bonds (52% in 2009 vs. 47% a year earlier) and exchange traded funds (20% vs. 14%). In addition, 74% were in stocks, down from 76% a year earlier and up from 71% in 2007–but down sharply from 80% invested in stocks in 2006 and 85% in 2004.
The 2009 survey found 41% had a home equity loan or line of credit, up from 34% a year earlier. Of those who had such loans or credit lines, 36% in 2009 said they had used the money to make home improvement, down from 50% a year earlier.
One big change was among those who said they had not used their equity loan or credit line, up sharply to 21% from 8% the year before, while 19% said they were investing it in real estate or a home, up from 2% in 2008. Significantly, 16% said they were using it to pay off debts or bills, up from 6%.
Phoenix also found that 14% of affluent people see the equity in their primary residence as a significant part of their retirement savings, up from 10% in 2008.
Asked if they had a formal written financial plan, 39% answered yes, up from 34% in 2008 and 37% the year before that.
Of those who had a written financial plan, 97% said they considered it to be important to their overall financial planning, with 21% calling it “extremely” important and 23% describing it as “very” important.
About 61% had an estate plan, with 9% saying they had adopted one in the past year. Some 30% who don’t currently have a plan said they plan to adopt one, while 8% have no plans to establish one.
Zultowski, who oversees the annual survey for Phoenix, says among the significant findings for advisors in this year’s study was the need for financial and estate planning.
He noted that the survey found many have put off both types of planning because they were waiting to see what Congress would do, if anything, about the estate tax.
The survey found, in fact, that in 2009, estate planning was much more important than in the past for 19%, up from 15% in 2008. Yet 29% have not updated their estate plan in 5 years.
In fact, Zultowski says, among those with over $5 million in assets, the estate plan of many is over 10 years old. “This presents an opportunity to revisit the plan.”
Among other findings, 98% of participants in 2009 said they were concerned about the health of the U.S. economy, including 22% who said they were “extremely” concerned and 33% “very” concerned.
Asked when they thought the equity markets would return to growth, only 1% expected that to happen within 6 months of the time of the survey. Another 19% gave it between 6 to 12 months, while 40% predicted it would take 13 to 24 months, 22% between 25 and 36 months and 17% over 36 months.
Many respondents thought the current crisis is so severe that most Americans would change their past tendency to save little and incur large amounts of debt.
Phoenix found 65% of respondents thought Americans would begin to save more and to borrow less in the short run but would return to their old habits of heavy borrowing and saving little once the economy improves. And although 25% thought their fellow Americans would permanently change their saving and borrowing behavior as a result of the recession, 10% said they expected most Americans wouldn’t change their financial behavior in the least.