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Investors Prefer Flesh-and-Blood Advisors Over Robos 2 to 1: Survey

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Financial advisors got some encouraging news from the latest Wells Fargo/Gallup Investor and Retirement Optimism survey. Despite the recent proliferation of robo-advisors, U.S. investors prefer personal financial advisors 2 to 1.

When asked which three professional resources are most important to them, half of the respondents ranked a strong relationship with a personal financial advisor first; 24% chose state-of-the-art online or digital investing tools; and 19% chose on-call access to a financial advisor.

“Technology is important, but the highest number of investors want a personal relationship with a financial advisor,” says Mary Mack, president of Wells Fargo Advisors. And “many clients want both,” says Mack — a personal financial advisor and access to digital investing tools.

“Investors are telling us they truly value a personal relationship with an advisor, who also uses technology in a collaborative way,” says Mack.

Seventy-one percent of survey respondents rated access to digital investing tools as very or somewhat important to them, while 70% said the same about a strong relationship with a personal advisor.

What many investors don’t want is only an automated investment advisory service that uses computer-based portfolio management.  Fifty-one percent of respondents in the survey said they’re not at all interested in such a service; 33% said they were very or somewhat interested.

The survey consisted of telephone interviews with 1,005 investors selected randomly from across the country with total savings of $100,000 or more. Almost 60% had annual incomes less than $90,000; 41% had incomes above that; twenty-eight percent were retired with a median age of 68; the rest were not retired, with a median age of 45.

Overall investors were optimistic about their retirement and investment outlook, pushing the quarterly index to 70, its highest level in seven years, just before the financial crisis hit. Eighty-four percent said they were as confident today in the American dream — which includes living comfortably in retirement — as they were a year ago.

One reason for the optimism is the preparedness of many investors for retirement. About 90% of those who have a written financial plan to reach their retirement and investment goals, were confident they would succeed. But many investors don’t have a plan, according to the survey, which presents opportunities for financial advisors.

The survey found that 69% of investors who aren’t retired yet have a financial plan to reach their retirement and investment goals but only about half of them (36%) had a written plan, up from 24% in 2011.  “The increase is encouraging, but still many people don’t have a written plan,” says Mack. Three-quarters of those investors with a written plan developed it with an investment advisor.  Among retirees, 73% said they have a financial plan, but only 43% had it in writing.

“There still remains a big opportunity for advisors to help investors have a plan, update it and keep it current,” says Mack.

One of the most surprising results of the Wells Fargo/Gallup survey were the risks that investors are most concerned about. Identity theft led the worry list, with 57% of investors saying they worried a lot or a fair amount of time about it. Next were cyberattacks on savings or investment accounts (47%) followed by stock market volatility (42%) and investment scams or fraud (41%).

Almost one-third of investors said they know a senior who’s been the victim of an investment scams or financial abuse, and almost half said they are likely to rely on a personal financial advisor to protect a family member from such abuse.

Mack says Wells Fargo Advisors has established an Elder Client Initiative team of specialists to help the firm’s 15,000-plus financial advisors report cases of suspected elder abuse and recognize when clients are experience cognitive degeneration. In mid-July, the company begins a cross-country bus tour to raise awareness of elder abuse.

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