Why Generation X Feels Like Financial Advisors' Middle Child - TheStreet

NEW YORK (MainStreet) – Generation X has been cleaned out over the past decade or so and isn't so fond of the finance industry as a result. Not that financial advisors have cared.

A survey by research firm Corporate Insight found that 45% of advisors plan to target the somewhat affluent and 40% the high net worth investor. That said, only 30% are looking at young investors under 40 and just 20% are targeting younger family members of their existing account holders. That's not just bad for Generation X, but bad for advisors on the whole. Sean McDermott, analyst at Corporate Insight, says that with the average age of financial advisors sitting around 50, advisors are ignoring Gen X at the expense of both their business and their succession plans.

“Part of the problem is that so many advisors right now are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel," McDermott says. “They have an established book of business, a steady revenue stream coming in and are looking at retiring themselves in 10 years, five years or less. I think many of them take the mentality of 'What's in it for me?'”

A report from Toronto based research firm Pricemetrix found that an advisor with a client base that includes a significant portion of clients under age 45 would grow an average 14% per year, which an average annual revenue of $890,000. An advisor with primarily older clients, however, will  see their book of business grow only about 7.7% a year. That's enough to provide some motivation, but that won't make it any easier to woo Gen Xers in for a meeting.

If you’re about 33 to 49 years old, we know the past few years haven't been easy on you. The Pew Charitable Trusts says the leading edge of Generation X — folks born from 1966 to 1975 — lost about 45% of its wealth during the Great Recession. It's a generation that graduated amid one recession, missed out on the dot-com bubble that preceded it, missed out on the housing boom because it couldn't scrape together enough cash and was plunged headlong into yet another recession, thanks to the housing bust that followed.

Gen X has since watched what little net worth it had plummet from an average of $75,000 in 2007 to just $42,000 in 2010. That $33,000 loss isn't nearly as much as the nearly $75,000 lost by Baby Boomers born just after World War II, but at least that group is still sitting on roughly $170,000 apiece, thanks to the cash it made during the dot-com and housing booms. Pew concluded that not only did Gen X lose out during the housing bubble because of its low rate of homeownership but that "Gen Xers are the least financially secure and the most likely to experience downward mobility in retirement.”

“It doesn't matter whether it's Baby Boomers or Generation X or Y: When they learn to save money and they start to reach peak earnings and accumulate assets they'll worry 'Is my timing correct? Have I done this correctly,'” says Masood Vojdani, founder of Bethesda, Md.-based MV Financial. “They're worried about accumulation, but then they're thinking about distribution of these assets at their retirement.”

Getting them to that point won't be easy.

According to a 2012 Insured Retirement Institute report, only a third of Gen Xers are "very confident" about having enough money to live comfortably during retirement, cover their medical expenses and send their kids to college. Just 41% have figured out how much they'll need to save for retirement. Among those who have saved, half have amassed less than $100,000. The study also noted that during the recession, 15% of Xers made early withdrawals from their 401(k) plans, 23% stopped contributing to their retirement accounts and 22% stopped contributing to college savings plans.

They've been hands-on investors since the first discount trading firms cropped up in the '90s. They're well versed in managing their finances online and through mobile devices. They've also had companies including Charles Schwab and Fidelity build extensive online platforms to meet their needs. That said, watching their investments take hit after hit been a bit dispiriting.

“I do think that now that most of Generation X has lived through two, if not three, major market corrections since they've been investing — if not themselves, then through their employers' plans. Now that they're in their peak earning years, they're going to be more open to the idea of working with an advisor,” McDermott says. “The stress that goes along with being self-managed with their investments and seeing the money disappear when the market drops takes a toll on people, and after doing that for years, peace of mind would appeal to them.”

But McDermott notes that those downturns, the Enron collapse, Bernie Madoff and other economic low points during Gen X's lifetime have made its stereotypical cynicism increasingly prominent and its disgust with the financial industry palpable. That hasn't been helped by intractable financial advisors who've stuck rigidly to old methods. According to Corporate Insight, 57% of younger investors highly rate having mobile access to their investments, but only 27% of advisors believe think mobile investment is important to their clients.That's a formula for absolute disaster.

“Many advisors have at least opened up to the idea of having some sort of online platform for their clients, but mobile is still lagging for independent private practices,” McDermott says. “If an advisor is stuck in the mindset that their role in the relationship is all that matters, they're in for a rude awakening … It's not that Gen X won't want to work with advisors, they'll just want to work collaboratively.”

That said, there's still a large role for advisors to play in Generation X's financial future. As Vojdani points out, a financial advisor adds a independent voice to the discussion. He or she can push a client to consider the future and answer questions they either hadn't thought of or were too uncomfortable to address. At this point, Generation X can either see any hope for retirement destroyed by the next market fluctuation or have a someone else shield it from the unexpected. At the very least, it can take some of the worst aspects of financial planning of its weary shoulders.

“The financial advisor is the key because that individual is willing to go one extra mile to ask the hard questions and get to the heart of the matter,” Vojdani says. “Often, people don't want to talk about those issues because who wants to talk about dying or life after death? We all want to live in the moment.”

— Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore., for MainStreet

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This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held TK positions in the stocks mentioned.