No, it's not your father's retirement planning experience, not for younger Americans who are increasingly distrustful of Wall Street and, in particular, financial advisors. A new report from Chicago-based Spectrem bears that notion out. According to Spectrem, a quarter of Millennials, those Americans born between 1981 and 1997, do not use a financial advisor to manage their long-term savings, and 40% say they will likely turn to a so-called "robo-advisor" in the near future. This, at a time when more than 60% of Millennials with less than $1 million in assets say they are concerned about having enough retirement income to live comfortably.
That will be a challenge for financial planners and advisors looking to plug into the next generation of U.S. demographic wealth, where Americans between the ages of 21 and 31 will control $9 trillion in assets by 2018 and will inherit $36 trillion by 2061.
"Millennials are the next great challenge for the financial provider industry, but they are a different breed of investor than the older generations,'' says George H. Walper Jr., president of Spectrem Group. "Understanding how they built their wealth and their specific designs for what to do with their investable assets will benefit providers and advisors looking to create a new business relationship."
That may be easier said than done, Millennials tell MainStreet.
"As both a Millennial and an advisor, I feel that I have a unique perspective," says Matt Shibata, a portfolio manager at Morling Financial Advisors in San Francisco. "I agree that most Millennials probably do not trust financial advisors. Yet 'financial advisors' is a broad term that encompasses a variety of business and revenue models."
Advisors have traditionally been commission-based, although the industry is moving very quickly towards fee-based, Shibata notes.
"Nonetheless, it is confusing for consumers to distinguish how advisors are compensated, which leads to a degree of mistrust," he says.
Then there's the digital side of the equation, with those famously cyber-savvy millennials. "Younger investors are more comfortable finding information online and might question what value an advisor would bring," Shibata adds. "The part that many Millennials might miss is that advisors know how to use that information, customize it for a specific situation and provide counseling that is often needed during volatile markets, since investing outcomes are heavily influenced by behavior."
Kevin J. Prendergast, chief investment officer at EFG Advisors, LLC in Schaumburg, Ill., is another Millennial who manages money for a living. "I don't think it's a matter of trust," he says. "Most financial advisors are older and cater to Baby Boomers or retirees who have accumulated substantial investment assets, because their business model is dependent on asset-based fees."
Millennials, he adds, don't yet have the assets to make for a profitable relationship under that type of business model and may even have high interest rate student loans or credit cards that should be paid off before investing. To better accommodate younger investors, he says, advisors will have to think like a younger financial consumer.
"In order to serve Millennials, financial advisors must have the ability to offer a subscription arrangement along the lines of a gym membership, for which Millennials pay a flat fee -- say, $500 -- for an initial evaluation, followed by a monthly fee -- say, $150 per month -- for ongoing support," he says.
Also, just being young, and unaware of how the advisor-client relationship works, breeds more mistrust.
"If you have to write a check for a financial advisor, you're suddenly aware of how much they cost," explains Jason Hull, a financial planner based in Fort Worth, Texas. "It's a big cost relative to where they are in their lives, and it's hard to justify that price for advice when they have rarely paid that much for advice of any type in the past."
Exposure to low-or-no cost financial advice also clouds the picture. "There's a lot of free information on the Internet, so Millennials think they can apply the generic rules of thumb to their situation, and would rather give that a go than pay for personalized advice," Hull adds.
Whether it's mistrust, a desire to go the digital route or a general lack of understanding of the financial advisory business, younger investors are struggling to relate to the financial planning industry, and vice-versa. And honestly, there's no guarantee the two parties will ever see eye-to-eye, or ever do business together -- at least compared to the financial planning strategies of Millennials' parents and grandparents.