If you subscribe to the notion that younger people are prone to more risky behavior, a new Fidelity Investments survey might come as a surprise. Fidelity asked young people (defined as the millennial generation, born between 1981 and 1995) how they were investing. Their response to the Retirement Savings Assessment was both interesting and alarming. Thirty-nine percent of respondents said they had 50 percent or less allocated to stocks, while 16 percent said they were invested in cash only. That’s an eye-opening number, as younger investors are far more equipped to withstand a market downturn due to their age. Analysts say millennials can and should be absorbing more market risk, and should be more aggressive about adding stocks to their portfolios. Instead, too many younger investors aren’t paying close attention to their retirement/investment portfolios, and aren’t even sure of the investments they hold in those portfolios. “We don’t trust the stock market,” said Michael Tamez, a millennial financial blogger at Florida-based Sunshine Gold Investments. “We also don’t trust our monetary system, we don’t trust our paper currency, and we definitely don’t trust government backed investments. We distrust the government and global currencies so much, we started our own de-centralized digital currency network – bitcoin.” Also, LendEDU found that 41 percent of millennials are “avoiding” the stock markets and are relying on savings accounts to meet their retirement savings goals. That decision alone could cause younger investors to bypass $3.46 million in retirement savings by the age of 65, LendEDU concluded.
The financial fears of younger investors start with the stock market. They sense a major market crash on the horizon, Tamez said. “Although the stock market is at an all-time high, what goes up, must come down,” he added. A sense of distrust is pervasive among younger investors – and investment professionals. “Consider what our experience of the markets has been the last 15 years or so,” said Michael Dinich, a 36-year-old insurance agent in Sayre, Pa. “Enron, the technology bubble, Martha Stewart, WorldCom, Michael Madoff, financial crisis – the list goes on and on. Millennial realize they, as taxpayers, are going to be on the hook for all of those financial firm bailouts.” Most Wall Street firms, especially the established ones, struggle to respond to millennials’ unique investment needs. “The response by Wall Street to deal with younger investors is to push robotics-based investment advisors,” Dinich said. “These younger advisors need help and coaching, and they need to know how to sign up for their 401(k) plan, pay down debt, and save for retirement. Many millennials just don’t know where to turn.” Yet financial professionals say millennials (and their parents, employers and educators) need to share some of the blame regarding investment portfolio “indifference.” “Many younger investors could probably tell you the latest smoking hot sector, stock or investment that caught their attention this year from cannabis to Snapchat or bitcoin, but cannot clearly explain how to create a basic allocation for their own 401(k) savings plan and select investments,” said John Ulin, managing principal at Ulin & Co. Wealth Management in Boca Raton, Fla.
Unfortunately, most young people have little access to the basics in financial literacy and investing, experts say. “Not only do most parents get an F in educating their kids on the basics of saving and investing money, there is nominal exposure to this in high school, college or at the workplace,” Ulin said. “If employers did a better job at educating millennials in the workplace, their companies would potentially have an increase in retirement plan savings participation rates and higher employee satisfaction.” At the very least, employers should offer two or three methods of workplace financial education services and gauge the response. “Financial wellness programs, by nature, should provide multiple channels and ongoing access to financial coaching,” Ulin said. Some methods that work the best for younger employees may involve live or online workshops on investing and retirement planning basics. “Other resources could include a call center and online financial tools,” Ulin added. “With most younger employee’s financial futures being almost fully dependent on themselves, creating a culture of financial wellness should be a priority for most employers.” At the end of the day, the best way for financial professionals to engage millennials is to think like one. “As a progressive, solution-oriented generation, we’re interested in companies, technologies, and opportunities that offer something amazing – not just another service or product that increases capitalism,” Tamez said. “We want to support companies and options that have integrity and care about the environment and promote sustainability.” That means companies that honor racial, gender, and religious equality. More wind and solar energy related investments would generate “massive response from us.” Tamez said. If Wall Street really wants to get more millennials to diversify, it’s going to be forced to upgrade with the times, Tamez said. “Once the baby boomer generation is gone, the stock market could resemble a spider web covered graveyard infested with chirping crickets and tumbleweeds,” he said.