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Financial Planning > Behavioral Finance

Surveying the affluent: What the research reveals

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One thing that is very helpful about working with affluent Americans is that people are always asking them about their lives. There are constant surveys asking the wealthy what they want, how they spend their money, the steps they take to manage — or not manage — their assets.

We reviewed several recent surveys of America’s wealthy, however that might be defined, and gathered some of the most pertinent results. Perhaps the most important finding: These Americans’ financial needs are not being fully met. According to the U.S. Trust Insight on Wealth and Worth, Seventy-two percent of those with $3 million in investable assets do not have a comprehensive estate plan.

So this market is still, in many ways, available to estate planners. Here are some other findings from recent surveys of the wealthy that can help advisors hone in on this cohort:

They’re not fully prepared

The same U.S Trust survey found that most wealthy respondents had not fully accounted for several key factors that could affect their retirement. These factors range from inflation to paying for elder care to having realistic expectations for the lifestyle they’ll be able to lead. Only those who were already retired were fully aware of what retirement really entailed.

They don’t feel wealthy

Fewer than half of those in the U.S. Trust survey said they felt wealthy, even though they all had at least $3 million in investable assets. Ipsos surveyed a less affluent cohort, those with annual incomes of at least $100,000, and found something very similar.

“Today’s ultra affluent by and large grew up middle class,” writes Ipsos Senior Vice President Stephen Kraus in the report accompanying the survey, “and in some ways still have a middle-class sensibility and a middle-class value orientation that’s just been intensified by the recession.”

The young affluent are getting more comfortable

As the economy improves, younger affluent Americans are feeling more financially secure, according to a survey from the market-research firm Mintel. They found that among those with $500,000 to $1 million in investable assets, 62 percent of those aged 18 to 34 felt more financially secure now than they did a year earlier, the largest percentage of any age cohort. This age group is also the most likely not to have worked with a financial advisor yet.

They’re responsible for more than themselves

The U.S. Trust survey found that the wealthy are likely to be extending financial support to family members. More than half, 56 percent, of the wealthy give financial help to adult children. Even more, 63 percent, say they would be willing to support their elderly parents even if the support caused them financial hardship. And 55 percent say they would help a sibling under similar circumstances.

They’re uncertain about their legacy.

A majority of the parents in the U.S. Trust survey said that leaving a financial inheritance is important to them, although many said they didn’t feel prepared to provide or receive an inheritance. But only half said their children would be mature enough to handle a financial legacy, even at the ages of 25 to 34.

The younger ones are already doing everything virtually

The Mantel survey found that 58 percent of the youngest affluents, aged 18 to 34, preferred to do most of their financial transactions on their smartphones or tablets. This is the highest such figure for any age cohort, of course; among those aged 65 sand over, only 3 percent said they used smartphones or tablets similarly. But a majority among all age groups agreed with the statement, “It is important to me to have access to my primary bank and/or investment company via mobile or online communications.”

They LOVE their smartphones

According to a survey by the Shullman Research Center, more than half the people with incomes greater than $250,000 said their smartphone was the one device they “could not live without.” Tablets are catching up, though; the Ipsos survey found that 51 percent of those with incomes of $500,000 or more now own a tablet.


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