While managing the everyday challenges that arise from work with sophisticated clients, wealth management professionals are also expected to be a little clairvoyant. Affluent families count on their advisors to be able to spot emerging trends – from macroeconomic to social – that will affect long-term objectives. Given this ability, it is a little surprising that so many wealth managers have overlooked the most fundamental question about the future of sector itself: Where is the next generation of investors coming from?
As older high-net-worth investors reach the end of their journeys, who is in line to take their place? For wealth management practitioners, that answer is both easy and unavoidable: the “Millennial Generation.”
The fact that the solution sounds so simple could explain the industry’s complacency. It seems more likely, however, that uncertainty about how to reach these investors is causing many advisors to defer. For most, millennials might as well be the Great Wall of China: almost impenetrable – at least in terms of the level of difficulty for advisors in attracting new business from that age group.
This is largely because most millennials do not feel that financial services professionals are meeting their needs. In fact, a recent PricewaterhouseCoopersGlobal Private Banking and Wealth Management survey found that only 2 percent of adult children keep inherited money with their parents’ advisor. That’s terrible news for advisors and financial planners at the cusp of one of the largest periods of wealth transfer in history.
Baby Boomers are expected to receive $11.6 trillion in inheritance money, with Millennials next in line. At the same time, the tax landscape for gifting has grown friendlier to older Americans, helping millions to transfer assets to their children and grandchildren.
Clearly, financial advisors have a ton of work to do and only a short amount of time to regain the trust of Generation X and Generation Y investors. Complicating matters, investing has been a colossal flop for a majority of the Millennial Generation, with painful memories of 2008 and 2009 still fresh.
So where is the silver lining? Millennials may be disgusted with Wall Street, but they are equally scared of mirroring their parents in seeing life-long retirement assets drained from their 401(k) accounts, company pensions and stock plans. Astute advisors are seizing the opportunity to be first in line to teach the younger generation how to plan for a better financial future by availing themselves of solid professional guidance.
Younger Americans are using online tools to “self-teach” themselves about finance and investment. According to a 2012 study by TD Ameritrade, 52 percent of Gen X (ages 35 to 46) and 64 percent of Gen Y (ages 22 to 34 as of 2012) rely more on websites than any other source for financial information. Only 21 percent of Gen Y and 32 percent of Gen X turn to professional financial advisors for financial news and information. And only 10 percent of Gen Y respondents report trusting professional advisors as the most valued source of news and information.
Innovative financial advisory firms are helping to reshape opinions by refining their approach. The most successful will follow these key steps:
- Embrace technology and how younger investors use it– Wealth management firms should encourage advisors to reach out to young investors through Twitterand a professional Facebookpage. Clearly, just having a web page isn’t enough with the younger set. Firms should also invest in reliable video-conferencing software to offer virtual meetings with Millennial clients and prospects who are tech-savvy and ultra-busy.
- Hire younger advisors and sales representatives– Wealth managers should bring some fresh new blood in to their practice to attract Millennials. Younger investors relate more easily to their contemporaries and may be more likely to sign on if advisors or sales reps can achieve “peer validation” with them.
- Talk to Millennials using short-term outlooks– Younger adults have been bruised and beaten down by the toxic U.S. economy. Thus, advisors need to talk just as much about short-term next steps as long-range planning. Think “one-year plans” for this demographic and then ease them along to a broader outlook.
- Sell the Millennials through their parents– Younger investors love technology and making decision on their own. But if an advisor can show young Millennials that he or she has Mom and Dad’s complete trust, that’s often half the battle. The fact is that Millennials do look to their parents and grandparents for financial advice. If the parental advice is to pay a wealth management practice a visit, that is a huge door-opener.
Millennials are often thought of as jaded, which would be understandable given their investing experiences. But if advisors approach them as a partner, and can demonstrate a solid track record of taking care of other Gen X and Gen Y investors, they should be well-positioned for the generational transition ahead.
April J. Rudin is the CEO of TheRudinGroup, a wealth marketing firm which creates campaigns and strategies for attracting and engaging UHNW/HNW clients for wealth managers, family offices, private banks, non-profits and others. Specialized expertise in next gen wealthy, social media and digital messaging.