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Life Health > Long-Term Care Planning

Confidence Rising, The Affluent Are Warming To Advisors

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Advisors’ relations with wealthier clients came through the downturn largely intact, a new survey by Phoenix Companies Inc., Hartford, finds.

Respondents to the annual Phoenix Wealth Survey this year said they are using financial advisors more and feeling better about dealing with them. In fact, 79% said they are receiving financial guidance from a professional regularly, up from 73% last year.

The tough economy appears to have pushed many clients a little closer to their financial advisors, the survey also showed.

The crisis did strain relations between some clients and advisors, but the distrust and doubt seen in Phoenix’s survey last year appears to be subsiding.

For instance, whereas 13% of affluent investors last year told Phoenix they would look for a new advisor in the next 12 months, the number expecting to look for fresh financial help fell to 9% this year.

Meanwhile, those describing themselves as “extremely” or “very” satisfied with their financial advisor rose this year to 58%, from 52% last year.

Many affluent investors surveyed this year felt less wealthy than they did before the recession hit, although the number reporting this feeling has abated since 2009. Phoenix found 52% felt less wealthy in 2010 than they did last year, which actually was a significant improvement on the 74% who in 2009 reported feeling less wealthy than they did the year before.

“The big finding this year is a bounce-back,” says Walter H. Zultowski, senior advisor to Phoenix and author of its wealth survey. Although still “slightly negative,” the survey found affluent Americans “cautiously optimistic–and with ‘cautiously’ underlined,” he says.

All told, 92% of high-net-worth individuals responding to the Phoenix survey described their personal economic situation as “comfortable” to “extremely well off,” up from 90% last year but down from 94% the year before that.

Long-term confidence among the wealthy also gained, with 90% in 2010 describing themselves as “moderately” to “extremely” secure, compared to 87% who described themselves that way last year–although down from 94% who had said they felt secure in 2008.

Wealthy individuals also are feeling a little better about the economy, Phoenix found. Although 75% described themselves as “concerned” to “extremely concerned” about the nation’s economy, this was down from 88% who felt that way in 2009.

The percentage describing themselves as pessimistic about the economy fell to 51% this year, from 58% in 2009.

Asked about what they expect over the next two years for the nation’s economy, 53% said they thought the worst is over but that the U.S. will come out of it slowly, up from 27% who said so in 2009. Also in 2010, 25% said they expected the country to stay in a prolonged downturn for the next two years, down from 31% in 2009. Just 31% said in this year’s survey they still thought the worse was yet to come, down from 35% who said so last year.

In a new question Phoenix asked this year, 46% of high-net-worth individuals agreed with the statement, “As a result of the financial crisis, I will not be able to leave my heirs as much money as I had originally planned.”

The latest survey also uncovered a shift in concern among the affluent for their well-being in retirement in terms of protecting their lifestyle and shielding their assets in their senior years.

Phoenix found, for instance, 55% were worried about the impact of inflation on their retirement assets in 2010, compared to 50% expressing this concern last year, while 55% worried they might not be able to maintain their lifestyle after they stopped working, up from 45%.

Those worried they might outlive their assets rose to 47% from 40%, while those fearing that health care costs could wipe out their assets increased to 49%, from 42%.

Zultowski believes the rising concerns about health care expenses may have been fueled at least in part by the recent national focus on health care reform.

“I think the perceived squeeze with regard to retirement security is increasing, and concern for health care is on top of everything else,” Zultowski says. “When there’s a lot of attention to a topic, it’s top of mind, and some of that is what we’re picking up on. Maybe all the debate caused people to step back and think about whether health care is a retirement risk.”

An encouraging sign in this year’s survey was an increase in the number of respondents reporting they have a financial plan–44%, up from 39% last year. In fact, 2010 saw the highest percentage reporting they have a plan in the 11 years Phoenix has done the annual survey, Zultowski says.

Another heartening indicator is how the affluent market sees advisors in terms of satisfaction, loyalty and usage, Zultowski says.

“But advisors can’t become complacent in these findings,” he warns. “There is still a population here that’s somewhat uneasy. They’re feeling better–but don’t become complacent.”

The survey, conducted by Harris Interactive Inc., Rochester, N.Y., covered 1,835 individuals in households with net assets of at least $1 million.


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