While many high-net-worth investors get advice from friends, family and sources on the internet, the majority — 72% — rely on financial professionals such as their advisors for investment information, according to research by Millennium Trust. In fact, financial professionals are over three times more relied on and trusted than the next trusted investment source: 51% of HNW investors trust financial professionals more than competing sources, including family, which is the most trusted source for only 13% of investors.
When advisors discuss potential investments with clients, they often focus on traditional options like stocks, bonds and mutual funds. As our research shows, however, many HNW investors are interested in alternative investments, such as hedge funds, private equity, real estate, commodities, marketplace lending and crowdfunding.
For example, 63% are moderately or extremely interested in investing in real estate and 46% report the same level of interest in private equity. But when it comes to discussing those investments with their broker or advisor, the numbers are significantly lower: Just 25% have discussed residential rental properties, 20% commercial rental properties, 23% real estate investment trusts, and 27% real estate limited partnerships, whereas 38% have discussed private equity.
The gap between investor interest in alternative investments and the level of discussion surrounding them presents an opportunity for advisors. Conversations about alternatives have the potential to deepen advisors’ dialogue with clients, adding value to the relationship for both parties.
One reason advisors may shy away from these discussions is a misconception of alternative investments as too risky or inefficient. In reality, however, these investments can enhance returns and add a valuable level of diversification to a portfolio, helping to decrease the impact of volatility and provide additional opportunities for tax-deferred growth potential, if invested using a retirement account.
Real estate and commodities, for example, have a low correlation with other asset classes, which means that they can serve as important counterweights in a portfolio when the stock market is down. Hedge funds and private equity, meanwhile, provide opportunities for substantial growth potential on top of more traditional equities.
Just as important for many advisors is the fact that the process of investing in alternatives is becoming easier and more accessible. A new wave of investment platforms is providing straightforward access to alternative asset classes, allowing advisors to bypass the complicated paperwork that deterred some from making the leap into alternatives. For example, advisors can now access vehicles such as private equity, which were once only available to large institutional investors, with relative ease.
(Full disclosure: Millennium Trust has a network with access to such investment platforms, called MAIN.)
Some advisors and individual investors may be unaware that alternative investments can play a role in tax-advantaged retirement accounts like IRAs and 401(k)s. Millennium Trust research shows that even investors who own alternatives in brokerage accounts or other vehicles tend not to own them in qualified accounts. For example, while 37% of HNW investors invest in real estate (exclusive of personal residences), only 10% do so within an IRA or SEP IRA. The tax benefits provided by these accounts, however, can make alternative investments appealing and efficient candidates for these portfolios. The fact that alternatives have traditionally not been a part of these accounts is no reason to exclude them now.
With so much wealth being transferred to millennials over the next several years, now is the time to commit to alternative investments. Younger investors seem to be more comfortable with alternatives than previous generations, so ignoring them in favor of more traditional assets may limit advisors’ ability to serve their clients in the future.