The coming years won't be easy for bank advisors. They are facing some tough challenges.

There is a silver lining, however, because of the combination of increased demand for investment advice and the trust that the local bank still enjoys (more on that later). But even the bank programs that set out on the right track will feel speed bumps along the way. Others just won't make it. No matter how you slice it, a lot of bank brokers are in for a tough slog.

The reason is the "increased demand" for help. It won't be increased so much as crushing.

There will be 10,000 people retiring every day for the next 20 years (in sheer numbers, that means the equivalent of the city of Pittsburgh will retire each month). Most of those people don't have a retirement plan. In fact, according to a recent ING study, 71% of Americans have no plan. And guess who they're likely to turn to for help? (Hint: It's not Goldman Sachs.) It's you, the advisor at their bank.

This is just the first wave of the storm. A generation of people in desperate need of financial advice has arrived. They've been made all the more desperate by the big wealth managers' focus on the high-net-worth segment in recent years. And if they're not showing up on your doorstep yet, they're at least surfacing in surveys.

According to a recent Wells Fargo study, the majority of middle-class Americans (53%) has amassed just 7% of their desired nest egg. They have a median account size of $25,000 (their median goal was $350,000). And it's not all just young people. Nearly three in 10 people in their sixties have saved less than $25,000.

Other surveys dig a little deeper to understand the mind-set of the nearly retired and the newly retired. What they discovered is a crowd that is remarkably sanguine about its situation.

Hartford unveiled a study late last year that showed an optimistic bunch. When asked their biggest regret, the top answer was "wishing they'd saved more." But other than that, they appeared to be happy and hopeful. And the crowd that has already retired said it was even better than they expected. Of the near-retirees, 64% said they will be happier after retirement. And for those who were already retired, it got even better: 77% said they were happier in their new stage of life.

Issues surrounding their health were top of mind, which makes sense. But the notion of outliving their money hardly registered as a concern. One mention was made at the press event that this level of optimism is "possibly misguided," but it was mostly viewed as a new challenge for the financial industry. (How are we going to help these people achieve the life they want and a life they can afford?)

Making this whole situation even stranger, the young crowd (Generation Y) is sitting on cash. According to a survey from MFS Investment Management, Gen Y has allocated more of their portfolios to cash than any other age group, 30% on average. Moreover, 40% of them agreed with the statement, "I will never feel comfortable investing in the stock market."

So even while fifty- and sixtysomethings are cruising toward retirement with a smile and $25,000, the twentysomethings, who should be taking some risk with their investments, are hoarding cash.

What in the world is going on here?

First, advisors need to recognize just why people's attitudes toward risk are the way they are. And while it's true that everyone is different, there are some generational themes. And much of our investment outlook is determined by the macro environment and the strength of the economy when we financially come of age. What was the economy like when we started really paying attention to investments and our own finances? What were the markets doing?

For many of the baby boomers, that time period would have been the 1980s. Even many of the oldest boomers were too busy changing the world in the 1960s and '70s to pay much attention to the Dow. By the early 1980s, stocks were at the start of the vaunted two-decade bull market. So it's understandable how that has shaped their attitudes ever since and why many still hold to the notion that stocks (or home prices) always rise. And that's why you see responses in surveys along the lines of "things will just work out." (This was the attitude of 37% of respondents in the Wells Fargo survey and the reason that they had "no fears" about retirement.)

That may have been true for a long time. But over the past decade, things have not just worked out.

The notion that attitudes are shaped by circumstances also explains why Generation Y is scared to invest in equities: They've seen the stock market at its worst and want no part of it.

Once you determine how your clients are framing the whole notion of investments, you can hopefully shift that frame to a more appropriate vantage point. If you can successfully alter that lens they've been using since their formative years, you'll be on your way to helping them see the world in a more pragmatic way.

I know there is a certain apples-to-oranges issue here. Some studies look at middle-income consumers, others at mass-affluent investors and still others at everyone. Then there is the problem that institutions define those groups differently. So the data is a bit of a stew. But the bottom line is this: Millions of people are starting to retire, most don't have enough money, and if they're going to look for professional help, they are more likely to turn to their bank than anyplace else.


Many of those topics are part of this issue of BIC (we do try to keep our finger on the pulse, after all). That's why we dedicated our cover story to the challenges and opportunities for bank advisors. Freelance writer Bennett Voyles pounded the pavement to get an accurate read on the bank channel. One positive that you'll read about is the level of trust that banks enjoy because of the familiarity in their communities.

And don't miss our Production story by Joseph Coughlin, director of the MIT AgeLab. He discusses the difficulties of retirement planning and offers a new approach to start that conversation with clients.

Register or login for access to this item and much more

All Bank Investment Consultant content is archived after seven days.

Community members receive:
  • All recent and archived articles
  • Conference offers and updates
  • A full menu of enewsletter options
  • Web seminars, white papers, ebooks

Don't have an account? Register for Free Unlimited Access