'Gen Y Is Gen Worry' When It Comes to Financing Retirement

The Merrill Edge semi-annual survey of mass affluent investors, especially younger ones, shows belt-tightening amid heightened financial anxiety.  


Fifty-seven percent of working mass affluent Americans expect to retire later than they planned a year ago, according to Merrill Edge, a 36% increase from January 2011.

Mass affluent investors are putting their money where their mouth is. They say they are’re worried about accumulating sufficient resources for retirement and other financial goals, and as a result they are delaying plans to retire and cutting current spending.

“While the economy is showing signs of a turnaround, our data indicates the outlook among the affluent is not quite as positive,” said Dean Athanasia, Preferred and Small-Business executive at Bank of America.

Mass affluent is a substantial and rapidly growing market, comprising about 28 million households with $9 trillion in assets. They require customized solutions, yet they are underserved, Athanasia noted, because they fall between two groups.

Merrill Edge, a division of Bank of America dedicated to this segment, produces a biannual survey to explore the financial mindset of Americans with $50,000 to $250,000 in investable assets. In this report, Merrill Edge broke out numbers for 18- to 34-year-olds to get a better sense of their concerns.

As a group, the Gen Y mass affluent consumers outstripped the rest of this market segment in financial anxiety. Consumers surveyed said rising health care costs were a great concern (89%) compared with 92% of Gen Y consumers. The second-highest concern is ensuring that retirement assets last throughout a consumer’s lifetime (89%) compared with 92% of Gen Y.



Athanasia  attributes their apprehension to the economic climate. “For Gen Y, this is their first investing experience,” he noted. “The downturn has had a significant impact on them. They think it will be harder to save, and they are saving more and more.”

Alok Prasad, head of Merrill Edge, described mass affluent Gen Y consumers as highly tech-oriented and more likely to respond to advisers who are younger and do not work on commission. To help this generation prepare for the future, Prasad noted their desire for access to advice, education and multiple convenient ways of doing business by phone, online, using a mobile phone or in person. “They want access to easy, simple solutions,” he said.

Though consumers in this age bracket expressed alarm about the future, Prasad noted they are also one of the more optimistic in terms of what they intend to accomplish during retirement.

While the long-term poses the greatest concern for the mass affluent overall, Gen Y is worried about both the long- and the short-term equally. Seventy-nine percent of Gen Yers express apprehension about caring for an aging parent or adult child compared with 49% overall. In the short-term, 92% of younger mass affluent say financially supporting their family is a concern in contrast to 61% overall.

The data indicates this age group is most likely to tap into their long-term savings to pay for short-term expenses (41%). Yet they are also less willing to make changes to meet their financial goals such as cutting back on entertainment and personal luxuries (57%) and keeping the same car longer (48%). As a result, 71% of Gen Y already expects to retire later than planned—a stark difference from those aged 35 to 50 (59%) and 51 to 64 (60%).

Ketchum Global Research & Analytics and Braun Research conducted the Bank of America Merrill Edge survey by phone between February 13 and February 29, 2012. Braun contacted a nationally representative sample of 1,000 Americans in the U.S. with investable assets between $50,000 and $249,999, and oversampled 300 mass affluent in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

For an in-depth look at the mass affluent, read the entire Merrill Edge Report.