Study Finds Millennials Warming to Market Risk

Millennials are famous for being highly risk-averse investors, but new research from Hearts & Wallets LLC suggests the youngest investing cohort is ready for more risk.

The new “Hearts & Wallets Investor Mindset Study” shows Millennial investors are growing more eager to pursue growth in the ongoing bull market cycle. Having experienced the first positive market cycle of their adult lifetime, many young investors now view missing out on investment growth opportunity as a negative, and more than half of investors in their 20s and early 30s say they worry more about missing opportunity than the potential to lose money in the markets.

The study finds Americans overall show a much greater risk tolerance moving into the last quarter of 2014. For example, across all age groups, 27% of investors now say they are comfortable with volatility, compared with 21% in 2013. The strongest growth in risk appetite came among mid-career investors ages 40 to 52, whose comfort with volatility increased from 24% last year to 34% today. Early career workers, ages 28 to 39, also saw a strong increase in that time period, from 23% to 31%.

This early career segment was also the most likely, at 53%, to agree with the statement that “possibly missing out on investment growth is a bigger worry to me than the risk of losing money in the short term,” up a striking 16% over 2012. Among the mid-career group, 42% agrees with this statement, up from 37% in 2012. In contrast, only 22% of near- and post-retirees agreed with the idea that lower portfolio risk is not worth limiting growth opportunity.

“Millennials are going through a dramatic shift as they see the impact of the recent bull market and how their strategy of holding cash is costing them,” explains Chris Brown, Hearts & Wallets partner and co-founder. “The good news is there’s plenty of time to build a strong investing and savings plan that works for their individual needs. Younger investors should time their purchases since 2014 saw a number of 52-week market highs.”

The top investor-identified financial goal, by a wide margin and a big increase from 2013, is to build an emergency fund, followed by having enough money to “be able to work less/spend time as I want when I am older.” To “stop work altogether/retire” is a distant third. For households with less than $500,000 in investible assets, establishing an emergency fund is far and away the top goal.

Top investor concerns in 2014 also touch on the state of the U.S. economy, health care and Social Security. Despite investors feeling more confident about their own financial abilities in 2014, they feel more anxious about the overall financial future. Only 13% feel “confident, comfortable and secure,” down from 19% in 2013. One in three investors feels “high” or “moderate” anxiety.

Hearts & Wallets researchers suggest this anxiety is driven by mass market households with investible assets of less than $100,000. Retirees, and especially pre-retirees, are markedly more anxious in 2014.

The study also suggests financial information overload continues to be a challenge, with 51% of investors feeling confused about important financial topics. Despite not holding the employer responsible for their retirement income, half of Americans (47%) would use employer-provided resources to improve their financial literacy. Receptivity to employer-provided resources is highest among emerging investors younger than age 28, at 56%.

“Financial services firms have a great opportunity to shape the financial future of investors, especially Millennials,” adds Laura Varas, Hearts & Wallets partner and co-founder. “Saving and retirement plan participation is trending up, driven by younger investors. Firms can continue to improve programs at work, add options and articulate how options compare outside work.”