The mass-affluent segment is a tough customer base.

That’s one of the underlying truths of the bank channel, but it’s never been better illustrated than by a recent survey by AssetMark.

The report shows that mass-affluent investors are a confused group. As a whole, they don’t understand key investment concepts such as the relationship between risk and reward and, consequently, they’re unrealistic about what they expect from their portfolios.

They reported an average return in the last year of 14.2%, but so far in 2014 they’re not happy with their returns. Setting aside the fact that equities have posted respectable returns of about 8% (as of mid-September), they’re chasing last year’s numbers, the survey concludes. Other findings include: 46% of respondents say they would risk 25% to 100% of their portfolios for gains of an equal size, yet 88% say they are moderate or low risk-takers. And 90% of them said growth is one of their main investment goals, yet 68% are more concerned about the safety of their investments than they are about maximizing returns.

What is the takeaway for advisors when it comes to catering to this market? One idea: This is a huge and disparate market so you’ll be better served by carving out a more reasonably sized sub group that you can focus on and understand. Segmentation has long been a major issue for advisors, but nowhere is it more important than with this diverse group. Whether you segment by assets or income levels or occupation, the key is to understand that this group is not monolithic. Zero in on what makes them unique, what motivates them, what their goals are, and how you can help them.

This is a huge demographic and any way you slice it, you’ll find people who need your help.

Many are confused, but confused in different ways, so set clear expectations about the markets, as well as the help that you can provide. Otherwise, they may be complaining about you down the road even if they get 14%

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