Investors worldwide are at an impasse on reaching their financial goals, relying on little more than gut instinct as a guide to investing success despite admitted lack of investment knowledge, according to a recent survey from Natixis Global Asset Management.

In the study of 5,950 investors around the world, NGAM found that nearly six in 10 (58%) of investors do not have clear financial goals, 69 percent do not have a financial plan to reach them, and 78 percent simply follow their gut when making investment decisions.

“Many investors have set aggressive investment targets, but don’t have a realistic way of reaching them,” said John Hailer, chief executive officer of Natixis Global Asset Management in the Americas and Asia. “Something has to change. The markets have reached new heights and investors feel generally comfortable about portfolio performance. But without a plan that incorporates individual risk and personal benchmarks, the odds are diminished that investors’ will meet their goals.”

For more on the 2014 Global Survey of Individual Investor, watch the video.

In addition, these investors are torn between a desire for high, historically unrealistic, returns and insecurity about taking on risk, according to the survey. While there are positive signs that investors are seeking new approaches to investing – as well as new, more personal ways to measure and track progress toward goals – the fact remains that without a dramatic change in course by both investors and advisors, many remain stuck in neutral and exposed to the greatest risk of all: falling short on their financial goals.

Regardless, the aforementioned annualized returns may only be achievable if the risk tolerance exists to pursue these specific goals. The problem is the lack of appetite for minimal loss among large swathes of investors, an example being that 26% of investors globally define success as only experiencing investment gains and no losses – a near impossibility over any investment horizon.

Despite lofty aspirations, as many as seven in 10 investors worldwide say they are conflicted about the balance of risk and return in investment decision making. And if forced to choose, more than three-quarters (78%) would side with safety over outperformance.

Global Investor Insights 2014 
2014 Individual Investor Survey White Paper