Almost a third of millionaires nearing retirement have never consulted a financial professional because they feel they can do a better job on their own, according to a survey released Monday by Deloitte Center for Financial Services.
The survey found that while retirement confidence has increased since 2012, more than half of respondents said they’re still not feeling financially set. Naturally, those who have a formal retirement plan and established savings are more confident, but 17 percent of those highly confident investors didn’t have an advisor or even a retirement plan.
Sean Cunniff, investment management research leader for Deloitte, pointed out that the survey didn’t study how prepared respondents were, just how confident they felt. He told ThinkAdvisor on Monday that some of those investors may have their head in the sand when it comes to their retirements, but there was also a “portion of the population that was extremely well off — high income, high asset. Those people don’t have to have a plan if they’ve got a lot of wealth; they’re probably going to be OK.”
Cunniff noted that people who had a professional advisor and who had a plan also had the highest level of confidence in retirement.
“Those aren’t brand new ideas, but the fact that so many people are not feeling confident tells us there’s room for improvement in the advice and planning programs that are out there,” he said.
Cunniff added that one of the most important things that people can do to improve their retirement outcomes is to start saving “at an early age, and that’s something that the industry might not do a lot of because those people tend to not have a lot of assets.”
That could be adding to investors’ perception of workplace plans as the second most trusted source of financial information, after a primary advisor.
Cunniff attributed most of the improvement in retirement confidence to improvement in the economy overall. “We really couldn’t pinpoint anything radical that had changed in the industry or practices. It seems most likely to be because things have been doing well in the economy and the markets,” he said.
It’s ultimately a good thing that people are feeling more confident, but the problem is, “if the underlying issues haven’t changed or been resolved, if the market goes down, the potential is that retirement confidence is going to go straight back down as well.”
Despite efforts to make the financial services industry more transparent since the financial crisis, trust is still a problem for advisors and firms. One-third of respondents said they felt financial professionals were highly trustworthy, and just 29 percent felt the same way about financial institutions. However, those who work with an advisor were much more likely to say they trusted him or her: 78 percent compared with 68 percent in 2012.
“There is this overarching sense that a lot of people do not have a lot of trust in the industry,” Cuniff said. “On the other hand, people tend to have a good sense of trust in their own advisor. It’s like the congressman story; ‘I trust my congressman, but I don’t trust Congress.’ What that told us is having that personal relationship, if an advisor can develop that, will go a long way toward helping that individual.”
One point that was raised to the research team as they compiled the report was whose responsibility it really was to improve retirement outcomes: the industry or the individual?
“We thought about it a lot, and yeah, at the end of the day it is the responsibility of the individual, but we did feel that it is in the best interest of the industry to solve the problem,” Cunniff said.
There are several good reasons for that, he explained. First, a better prepared population is just better for society. Better-prepared people have more assets to invest, too, so from a practical standpoint it’s in financial services firms’ best interest to work with investors to that end.
But even if investors owe it to themselves to take responsibility for their retirement, who better to educate them than financial advisors? “The financial industry has the intellectual capital, the financial capital and the expertise to really solve the problem,” Cunniff said.
Finally, retirement unpreparedness is simply too large a problem to let it work itself out. “It will eventually get solved,” Cunniff said, but “the best outcome for people in the industry is to be part of the solution.”
The survey was conducted online in September 2014 among 2,000 U.S. consumers, and supplemented with 178 telephone interviews with financial advisors.