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Industry Needs to ‘Modernize’ to Accept Smaller Investors: Schwab

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As Americans’ definition of wealth evolves from a lofty, unattainable number to something more attainable, so does the industry need to evolve.

“We’ve watched as many firms set their account minimums high and their fees higher, making it difficult for people to access professional planning and advice,” Terri Kallsen, executive vice president and head of Schwab Investor Services, said in a statement. “As Americans’ definition of wealth evolves, the industry needs to modernize its approach to find new ways to deliver good value and a great experience to a broader population.”

(Related: What Fee Compression? Advisor Fees Show Little or No Decline)

Rob Williams, director of income planning for the Schwab Center for Financial Research, told ThinkAdvisor that he agrees.

“The industry does need to modernize, and it is,” he said, adding that it should not only be a question of having a lot of money. “It’s not a closed club. Everyone should be involved.”

Schwab developed the Modern Wealth Index to help track how well Americans across the wealth spectrum are planning, managing and engaging with their wealth.

The index, which is based on a survey of 1,000 Americans aged 21 to 75 conducted from April 12 to April 20, asked Americans how they define “wealth.” The survey found two opposing views, with some describing wealth as a specific sum of money and others describing it more as a state of mind.

When asked to define wealth, the top sentiments were having a lot of money (27%), enjoying life’s experiences (24%), being able to afford anything they want (22%), living stress-free and having peace of mind (19%), and having loving relationships with family and friends (12%).

When asked to express how much is required to be considered “wealthy” in America, survey respondents say it’s an average of $2.4 million, or nearly 30 times the actual median net worth of U.S. households according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

However, when asked to compare these two opposing ideas of wealth at a more personal level, Americans lean into things that money can’t buy: 65% equate wealth with having good physical health vs. having lots of money (35%) and 58% say wealth is about having gratitude vs. having money (42%).

Kallson echoed these findings when she said that “wealth is often thought of as a lofty, unattainable number that doesn’t apply to most of us, but that’s an old-fashioned notion that needs to be retired.”

“It doesn’t matter whether you have a lot or a little — what matters is that you think about the money you have as your wealth, and that you pay attention to it,” she said in a statement. “Being engaged is the only way to reach your personal goals.”

In order to make planning and wealth accumulation and management more attainable for more Americans, Williams said that simplicity and transparency is needed within the industry.

“We’re faced with so much complexity and noise today that [advisors should be] simplifying and saying, ‘what are your goals?’” Williams told ThinkAdvisor. “Boil that down to three four things that are important to them. That’s what planning is.”

Regarding transparency, Williams said that Americans should know what they’re paying for advice and investments.

Williams said that Schwab is committed to making financial planning more accessible to a broader group of people. One way it has done so is through its Schwab Intelligent Portfolios.

The Modern Wealth Index also broadly assesses Americans across four factors: 1) goal setting and financial planning, 2) saving and investing, 3) staying on track, and 4) confidence in reaching financial goals. 

On a scale of 1 to 100, Americans received an average Modern Wealth Index score of 49 based on this year’s survey.

“There’s room for improvement,” Williams said of the score.

Among the four factors of the index, Americans score highest when it comes to confidence in reaching their goals (64), while the actions it takes to stay on track — such as checking account balances and rebalancing investments — were the largest drag (24) on the overall index score.

Another area for improvement is having a written financial plan.

“Those who have a plan felt more comfortable that they were taking the right steps,” Williams said.

However, only 24% of Americans surveyed have a financial plan in writing. When comparing those with a written plan to those without, the survey found a significant difference in specific behaviors. For example, 54% of those with a plan increased their 401(k) contribution in the past year compared with 33% of those without a written plan.

Half of those with a plan rebalanced their 401(k) portfolio compared to 24% of those without a plan.

“Those that have a written plan have done tangible things that make a difference,” Williams said.

— Check out How Wealthy Millennials Are Changing Investing, Giving and Work on ThinkAdvisor.


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