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Millennial Madness

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Since one of my main jobs is to deliver to you the news and analysis you need, I read plenty of surveys about advisors — everything from where you are investing on behalf of clients to how you feel about robo-advisors.

When reviewing those surveys, I always place them into two buckets. Bucket one is reserved for what advisors say they plan to do — the “what ifs.” The second bucket is what advisors are actually doing and seeing in their quotidian experiences.

Bucket one certainly provides interesting information, but I prefer the surveys that go into bucket two.

Recall that several years ago a hot topic was the notion that there would be a tsunami of breakaway brokers joining the independent advisor ranks. That breakaway storm never exactly happened, as shown by the (self-reported) data of the three major wirehouses in Janet Levaux’s Employee Advisor column. Morgan Stanley, UBS and Merrill Lynch each reported average annual production for 2016 that was over or nearing $1 million, including commissions and fees for managing money — brokers at the wires had average AUM that would be the envy of any custodian or broker-dealer.

In a conversation years ago, Susan Hirshman, a CFP and CFA, and the author of several books (who previously wrote for this magazine) who is now a successful Morgan Stanley FA, told me something I’ll never forget: What advisors always want is more, and better, clients.

So where do you find new clients? In a series of feature articles starting with this month’s cover story, we hope to not only help you find those clients, but also give you insights into how to reach new clients, how to speak with them and, once you have them, how to retain them.

We start that process with a comprehensive look at the millennial generation. Last year, this generation (defined as being aged 18-34) became the largest generation, with 75.4 million members, eclipsing the aged 51-69 baby boomers. In the coming months, we’ll also look at Generation X, which the Census Bureau projects will become larger than the boomer cohort by 2028.

The first millennials turned 35 last year, entering what a Morgan Stanley report, citing Bureau of Labor Statistics’ data, calls the “U.S. consumer’s peak earnings, spending and investing years.” Millennials will increasingly be responsible for driving GDP growth as consumers, but are they a legitimate source of clients for you?

Some (notably Bob Clark in a series of blogs last year for that called the attempt to attract millennial clients a “waste”) think a marketing focus on millennials is premature at best and misguided at worst. After all, they don’t yet have an awful lot of accumulated wealth. They also are burdened with college debt unlike any previous generation, and Federal Reserve data show their starting incomes were significantly lower than those of their boomer parents.

Millennials constitute the overwhelming clients of robo-advisors, too, though with much lower average asset levels than would meet most advisors’ minimums.

But those are averages, of course, and most advisors’ clients, regardless of age, are far from average.

To me the argument whether millennials or any other large demographic make a good prospecting list misses the point. Your average age is likely in your 50s. Your average client’s age is probably higher than that. Clients leave you. Clients die. They aren’t making any more boomers, who face their own financial advice issues (which we will address in a future article). Gen Xers sound like a better bet; we’ll look at them in an upcoming issue. So where will your next client come from?

— Read Thinking Millennial on ThinkAdvisor.


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