Fearful Investors Can Use an Adviser's Help

In a survey examining investor behavior, MFS Investment Management clarifies what makes “fearful” investors act the way they do and ways an adviser can help.

MFS commissioned a survey of 613 consumer investors with $100,000-plus in household investable assets in August 2010. The company classified 12% of respondents as “fearful,” 18% “hopeful,” and 11% “opportunistic.” The “fearful” investors are most likely to benefit from using an adviser, MFS said.

Of fearful investors::

  • 89% were very concerned about another serious drop in the stock market
  • 73% have lowered their expectations about what life will be like in retirement
  • 71% were pessimistic in their outlook for the U.S. economy over the next five years
  • 62% prefer low risk investments today even if means low returns
  • 61% identify themselves as a saver more than an investor
  • 54% agreed that they will never feel comfortable investing in the stock market again
  • 49% are overwhelmed by all the different investment choices they have available to them
  • 48% said their need for financial advice has increased since the downturn
  • 39% decreased their contributions to 401(k) plans and individual retirement accounts (IRAs)
  • 37% of their portfolios are in cash

As previous studies have found, knowledge about investing leads to confident investors.  MFS found that of investors in the “opportunistic” segment, 54% considered themselves to be very knowledgeable about investing and only 3% considered themselves to be novice investors. In contrast, 35% of fearful investors considered themselves to be novices and 16% considered themselves to be knowledgeable about investing.

During times of market volatility, 20% of all respondents would prefer e-mail on a weekly basis from their adviser, according to the survey. Preference for e-mail is more than double for any other contact channel preference (phone, in person, mail). Respondents are more comfortable with less frequent contacts by phone (monthly or quarterly) or in person (quarterly or annually).

“Education might be what is needed the most to help build the confidence of investors, especially for those classified as fearful,” said Bill Finnegan, director of Global Retail Marketing for MFS. “We’re closing out a decade book—ended by the dot-com bubble burst and the worst recession since the Great Depression—perhaps reengaging with clients about investing basics would be a good place for advisers and their clients to start, to help to make the novice less nervous.”