‘Overwhelmed’ Consumers Could Use Adviser Help

Lincoln Financial survey probes Americans attitudes toward money and saving.

The bad news, according to a new study, is that consumers put cell phones before retirement accounts when choosing how to spend their money. The good news is that many would like to allocate more toward retirement planning and know they need help, says Kristen Phillips, senior vice president, insurance and retirement solutions marketing and strategy at Lincoln Financial Group.

The company surveyed a wide, and deep, swath of American adults—over 2,500, in fact—to learn their attitudes toward money, financial security, budgeting and how retirement and insurance solutions mesh with their priorities and needs, Phillips says.

The result is the “2015 American Consumer Study,” Lincoln’s second such annual tracking report. The findings reflect the company’s “deeper dive into segmentation,” says Dan Gangemi, Lincoln’s head of research and insight, retirement plans and group benefits.

Of most interest to retirement plan advisers, Phillips says, is that almost half of the consumers surveyed—Millennials through Baby Boomers—said they want to build a retirement nest egg; only 10% responded they haven’t saved much and are comfortable with that.

Yet, of those who want to save more, less than 50% are actually doing so. Part of the reason may be confusion over how. “While [the respondents] view retirement plans—and employer-sponsored plans especially—as a really important part of their planning, they don’t necessarily understand them well,” Phillips says. “Things consumers don’t understand they’re likely not to take action on.”


Gangemi agrees, citing the variety of decisions they may feel ill-equipped to make: “join the plan, create a deferral, continue to increase that deferral over time, select the investments.” Couple that with decisionmaking about complex health and ancillary benefits, he says, and “consumers can’t do it on their own—they feel overwhelmed, and they tell us that.”

NEXT: How advisers can help


The solution, Phillips and Gangemi stress, is education and guidance, notably through an adviser. While consumers appreciate information online or in print—and want communications through multiple forms—the most valuable form is conversation with an expert, face-to-face, Phillips says. She points to proprietary findings that “consumers who work directly with a retirement consultant or adviser tend to be more satisfied with their retirement plans, tend to be saving more and to have better outcomes.”

Education can especially target another of the new survey’s key findings: Many consumers fail to see retirement planning as an immediate need. “Some of their immediate needs, whether they be household necessities, health insurance or even Internet and cell phone costs, trump retirement planning,” Phillips says. “In the general priorities of spending in a typical household, it doesn’t fall within the top 10.”

Advisers can help significantly by explaining the importance of saving for retirement, even if the event is decades away, she says. Their challenge is to make a complex subject simple and thereby remove the roadblock to action. She recommends, in part, a simple message: Increasing savings by even tiny amounts will help. “Saving little bits here or there from what they perceive is higher-priority spend will make a huge difference.”

Advisers should be encouraged to know that many consumers are motivated to save, Phillips says. Also, that many Millennials appear to have a saving-mindset. Of the three generations surveyed, the youngest were more apt to identify themselves as savers, the study reports. This trend goes beyond the fact they may have watched parents’ savings collapse during the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009, Gangemi says. Many were forced to move home at that time and learned a pragmatic approach to money and saving from parents and grandparents, he says.

NEXT: Further findings

In more general findings about finance, 40% of Millennials felt “confident and in control” of their money, vs. 35% of Generation Xers or 34.5% of Baby Boomers. And, over all three cohorts, 66% believe financial stability means meeting present needs and saving for the future; almost half that number (30%) said “‘raising future standard of living’ is also an important component of feeling financially secure.”

Compared with last year’s results, the respondents seemed “a little more relaxed, more confident” about their relationship with money, Gangemi says. Their spending priorities and degree of myopia about long-term needs remain much the same, as do their admissions that they need help, he says.

On the whole, though, the respondents turn to people other than advisers to get that help. The largest percentage of all three generations—37% of Millennials, 35% of Gen Xers and 30% of younger Boomers—seek advice on retirement and insurance products from friends, co-workers or family. In comparison, 25%, 26% and 19%, respectively, seek it from their employer and 22%, 27% and 25% from their provider’s website. Boomers are the most likely to consult an adviser.

These findings scratch the surface of the survey results, which Lincoln plans to use to inform product development and educational activities, along with supporting sales and marketing efforts, Phillips says. “The sample size is large enough that we can do a number of different cuts of the data, particularly around generations and ethnicities.”

“Not every Latino American is or thinks the same,” agrees Gangemi. “Not every woman or man thinks the same about finances.” Rather than just segment by gender, ethnicity or generation, he says, “we’ve started to look at [the data] across the different segments. A Gen X Latino woman might have, based on her life stage or age, some very specific needs that someone who looks the same doesn’t. We think about it as ‘diversity within diversity,’” he says.  

Lincoln will follow up with a tracking study in the first quarter of the new year. A snapshot of the company’s current survey may be accessed here.

Results of the American Consumer Study are based on an online survey of 2,515 adults 18 years of age or older across the U.S., conducted in 2015 by Lincoln Financial Group and Penn Schoen Berland. Lincoln Financial Group provides advice and solutions through its investment management and insurance businesses.