Investopedia’s Affluent Millennial Investing Survey has revealed that nearly half of affluent millennials say they'll be forced to work beyond retirement age, yet nearly all said their personal or family financial situation will improve over the next decade, making them more optimistic than both their Gen X and Gen Z counterparts.
The survey asked 1,405 respondents to share how they view investing, who taught them, and how that education influences where they spend, save, and invest.
The results also revealed that despite their greater than average income, affluent millennials are still surprisingly reluctant to enter the stock market. According to the survey, almost 40% of this well-off cohort stated they believe investing is “risky,” with nearly a quarter labeling it “overwhelming.”
The Majority of Affluent Millennials Don’t Feel Knowledgeable About Investing
Why are affluent millennials so wary of the stock market, despite decades of evidence that investing pays off in the long term? Trepidation about stocks and a lack of knowledge about investing are major factors propelling the investment jitters of the wealthy millennials in our study, despite their median income of $132,000. (Median HHI for millennials as a whole is $69,000, according to the Pew Research Center). Our survey revealed that less than half of affluent millennials feel confident about investing and retirement planning. In fact, only 37% of affluent millennials feel knowledgeable about investing at all.
High-income millennials who feel knowledgeable about investing are 5X more likely (73% vs. 14%) to feel very confident in their ability to make their own financial decisions.
Further, affluent millennials who consider themselves financially knowledgeable are more likely to associate investing with positive emotions, and less likely to find it intimidating, risky or overwhelming.
"It gives me a feeling of control and power," said one millennial. "I feel in charge of my own future by handling my finances correctly," said another. "I love crunching numbers and seeing how I can grow my wealth," said a third, suggesting that despite some trepidation to invest, affluent millennials are still seeking a sense of control over their financial futures.
Low Financial Confidence Manifests in Conservative Investing Habits
The study also found that affluent millennials, despite having a longer window to invest and recoup losses, displayed surprisingly cautious investing habits. They are significantly less likely than Gen X to own stocks (37% vs. 47%), but just as likely as Gen X to own bonds (19% vs. 18%), and more likely to allocate their income to a low-yield savings account (21% vs. 16%).
Why do affluent millennials display an aversion to entering the market, despite a larger income to work with? Fear of losing money, founded or otherwise, is the main reason people think investing is too risky for them, says Ted Jenkin, CFP®, CEO and cofounder of oXYGen Financial in Alpharetta, Georgia. Indeed, the Great Recession, the gig economy, and the burden of student debt have rendered millennials a cautious generation. Yet their fear is a catch-22: coming of age amidst global financial turbulence alerted them to the importance of avoiding risky financial decisions, but investing could play a crucial factor in making up for the stagnant wages of the post-recession generation.
Sophia Bera, CFP®, of Gen Y Planning says she would tell a millennial hesitant to invest in stocks that “you’re probably already invested in stocks if you participate in your work 401(k) plan. It’s important to have different buckets of money to serve different goals.”
Bishop suggests that clients invest in ETFs instead of individual stocks, because people tend to be too emotional about individual stocks, buying or selling on feelings rather than sound investment decisions. Investing in mutual funds, ETFs and index funds that hold baskets of stocks can help manage risk through diversification.
Many Still Trust and Hire Financial Advisors
Raised in an era of economic uncertainty, it’s no wonder many millennials with money (to lose) seek professional advice. 43% of the affluent millennials surveyed said they use a financial advisor: and those who consider themselves knowledgeable about investing are more than 2X as likely to have a financial advisor than their less knowledgeable peers. Notably, 27% of those who reported using a financial advisor said their investments perform extremely well— double the number of affluent millennials without financial advisors who said their investments perform extremely well (13%).
Nearly two-thirds (65%) of the affluent millennials surveyed said they trust financial advisors, compared to only 58% of Gen Xers. They also trust books (58%), TV shows (54%), newspapers (53%), podcasts/radio (49%), magazines (48%), websites/blogs (37%), and YouTube (or similar video platform) videos (27%) for financial advice—just not as much as advisors.
Our affluent millennials surveyed explained why they trust financial advisors the most: “I feel the personal connection gives them more stake in my success,” said one; “Because they have received the most training, schooling, etc. in the field and are the most knowledgeable” according to another. Other affluent millennials cited the ability to have a two-way conversation and develop personalized strategies, and the belief that financial advisors are accountable since their careers depend on knowledge and expertise.
Despite this willingness to work with advisors, however, some also demonstrate a healthy dose of skepticism. One affluent millennial said that while financial advisors were her go-to source because of their specialized training, they still needed to earn her trust and she asks lots of questions to test their knowledge.
Early Financial Education Incites Greater Confidence in Adulthood
The way affluent millennials feel about managing their finances often reflects how effectively their parents managed money. Only 9% of those who said their parents were good at managing finances said they feel “very anxious” about managing their own money as adults, compared to 24% of those who said their parents were not good at managing finances.
Conversely, among respondents who said their parents successfully managed their money, 46% have high confidence in managing their finances, compared to only 30% of those who said their parents were ineffective at managing finances.
What motivated one affluent millennials’s first investment was "a life lesson from my pops." Another respondent explained: "I was told that I have to start thinking beyond myself and think about my future family.” The takeaway? Modeling responsible financial behavior and talking about money with your kids may make them better investors. Data backs up common sense.
Why Affluent Millennials?
Investopedia sought to examine what motivated investment decisions for a generation that came into adulthood during the great recession and has notoriously encountered a variety of challenging economic factors. In order to understand attitudes around investment, we studied those who should have disposable income to invest, referred to as “affluent millennials.” By examining a segment of the population that makes a greater than average yearly income for their age group, we hoped to eliminate financial hardship from the reasons they may not invest.
The Bottom Line
The Investopedia Affluent Millennials Survey reveals the importance of financial education, as evidenced by those who learned about investing as a teenager feeling confident enough to invest as an adult. Further, observing how their parents managed finances has shaped many affluent millennials’ confidence as adults as well. Earning a good income alone doesn’t always go hand-in-hand with knowing how to invest or feeling comfortable managing money.
Based on these findings, here are four ways affluent millennials can plan more effectively for their financial future:
- Affluent millennials should contribute to a retirement account, even if they’re not concerned about their finances: 12% of respondents said they don’t yet, despite their income.
- For those that do invest already, they should save even more for retirement: 46% of respondents said they didn’t feel they were saving enough, even though nearly 8 in 10 affluent millennials said that saving for retirement is a top priority. Time value of money and compounding demonstrate how investing more, earlier, can add hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of a lifetime.
- Investing less conservatively is also key — affluent millennials can afford to take more calculated risks with the goal of earning higher returns, as they have both the advantages of time and more money to work with.
- Finally, working with a financial professional can alleviate economic anxieties. Affluent millennials report substantially better investment performance when they work with an advisor, and having expert advice can help avoid missteps and missed opportunities.
According to Scott A. Bishop, CFP®, executive vice president of financial planning at STA Wealth Management in Houston, “Not investing is what is risky. If you don’t save or invest, the true risk is that you will never have any level of financial independence."