U.S. investors tend to prefer playing it safe when managing their finances, but American adults who use an advisor have higher average risk tolerance than those who don’t, according to the latest findings from Northwestern Mutual’s 2019 Planning & Progress Study.
American adults 18 and older who worked with an advisor reported an average risk tolerance of 5.2 on a scale of 1 to 10, while those without advisors had an average risk tolerance of just 4.6, the company said Wednesday.
But advisors might not be so thrilled to learn that U.S. adults who considered themselves “highly disciplined planners” — defined as investors who know their exact goals, have developed specific plans to meet them and rarely deviate from those plans — reported an average risk tolerance even higher than those with advisors: 5.3, according to Northwestern Mutual.
When asked about their likelihood to take calculated risks with their finances, 72% of U.S. adults surveyed reported they were more comfortable reducing risk to ensure the safety and stability of their savings and investments, even if it meant the potential for lower returns, the company said.
The study found that the average American’s “financial risk tolerance” — defined as the comfort level with taking financial risks in order to seek financial returns — was 4.9 out of 10 (with 1 being “very conservative” and 10 being “very aggressive”).
Significantly more respondents fell on the risk-averse end of the scale, with 30% in the 1-3 low-tolerance range compared with just 14% in the 8-10 range, according to the study.
“The instinct to preserve and protect is evident in these numbers, and while that’s a positive and healthy tendency, it’s also possible to be overly cautious due to uncertainty,” according to Emily Holbrook, senior director of planning at Northwestern Mutual.
“It’s interesting that comfort with risk goes up when people seek help from an advisor and stick to a plan,” she said in a statement, adding: “The takeaway here is that getting the right financial guidance can give you clarity to take calculated risks.”
The findings were in line with what Northwestern Mutual found the last time it collected data on Americans’ attitudes towards risk, in 2015, when 79% of U.S. adults said they preferred lower risk and more stable savings and investments.
The tendency toward risk aversion was again not limited to finances this time, the company noted Wednesday, saying the study also found Americans are more inclined to play it safe across many areas of their lives, including their careers. Sixty-five percent preferred the consistency and stability of staying with one employer rather than taking the risk of moving around, Northwestern Mutual said.
The 2019 Planning & Progress Study was conducted by The Harris Poll between Feb. 20 and March 5 on behalf of Northwestern Mutual and included 2,003 American adults 18 or older in the general population. Results were weighted to Census targets for education, age/gender, race/ethnicity, region and household income, Northwestern Mutual said. In addition, propensity score weighting was “used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online,” it said, adding: “No estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.”
— Check out Questionnaires Are the Root of All Evil in Financial Services, Professor Says on ThinkAdvisor.