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Wealthy Taking More Control of Their Finances, Barclays Finds

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U.S. high-net-worth investors have emerged from the recent financial crisis pessimistic about the American and global economies and with less trust in Washington’s ability to manage financial crises, according a new Barclays Wealth Americas report, “The Changing Wealth of Nations.” The report is based on a survey of more than 2,000 high-net-worth (HNW) individuals around the world, the firm said in a May 24 announcement.

The announcement highlighted several key findings specific to U.S. HNW investors. For one, recent economic events have shaped the way wealthy American investors view their own investment portfolios. More than one-third have experienced a negative effect on their personal net worth as a result of the global downturn, and are taking a more active role in their money management. Nearly half are reviewing their investment portfolio more than they were before the recession. Still, the majority have not changed how frequently they speak with their financial advisors, friends, and colleagues about investing.

Lower risk and an increased focus on wealth preservation are top priorities for wealthy U.S. investors. Sixty percent said the global downturn has made them more concerned about wealth preservation, and 47% were avoiding high-risk investments more than they were before the downturn. The majority expected equities and real estate to do well over the next five years.

The U.S. respondents were especially pessimistic about the economic outlook. Just about half believed that both the U.S. and the global economies will continue to deteriorate either during the next few years or at least over the next year before then improving. Although approximately one-third considered the U.S. economy currently stable, the same group foresaw only limited growth over the next few years. These sentiments coincided with their attitude toward the U.S. government. Sixty percent said the downturn has caused them to trust less in the government, and 66% said they do not feel Washington handled the economic downturn well.

A New Definition of Wealth

Emerging from the global financial crisis, wealthy U.S. investors recognize that the definition of wealth is altered. A substantial 91% said their wealth allows them freedom of choice in their life, and 80% considered it a reward for hard work. Only 38% viewed wealth as a means to get respect from friends and family.

Three-quarters of wealthy Americans surveyed are self-made. They cited savings over time as the main source of their affluence, and identified “saving for the future” as most important to them right now. Buying art/antiques, fashion/clothes, and interior design ranked lowest in importance to this group.

Nearly half of respondents believed that the wealthy set an important example to others to be successful. Slightly fewer did not think the wealthy have an increasing responsibility to pay higher taxes. The group was split in their views toward charitable responsibilities, with 38% spending more than two hours a week involved in charity work and 25% spending no time at all. Thirty-two percent plan to increase the amount of money they give to charitable causes, while an equal number do not.

Wealthy Women Different Than Men

Wealthy women in America, whose numbers continue to increase, are less likely than their male counterparts to consider themselves knowledgeable about-indeed, they are generally less interested in-finance and investing. The survey found that they spend less time actively managing their money, and are more likely than men to answer “Don’t know” when asked how they expect specific asset types to perform. Consequently, they are also more likely to rely on others for financial advice.

Furthermore, women in the U.S. view wealth as a means to happiness and status; they are more likely than men to cite wealth as “a sign of success” or something that “makes me happy.” In addition, when respondents were asked to reflect on their material desires, women were more likely to declare that they already have all the material things in the world they want.