Planning It Forward

Knowing what keeps investors up at night and being able to have insightful conversations to address these concerns could be the key to an advisor's ability to reinforce their value.


No matter how the investment and economic environments change, there is one constant: investors will always have concerns that keep them up at night. A lot of the current angst is understandable, given global political instability, skyrocketing health care costs and market complexity. Fortunately most of these concerns aren't insurmountable. Advisors well-equipped to have insightful and sometimes tough and honest conversations with their clients, can ultimately help them take charge of their financial health.

But it's not always easy to stay on top of every client's pain points. That's where MFS comes in. For more than 90 years, we've created resources and tools to help financial advisors keep their clients invested and on track to meet their long-term goals. In fact, our flagship program, Heritage Planning, is now celebrating a 20-year anniversary. For two decades we've been giving advisors the actionable support they need to help clients. As part of that program, we recently conducted our 2017 Heritage Planning Survey, to gauge what worries investors most today. 

What did we learn from the survey? Among the key themes was the confidence shown by different generations with respect to their financial health. Only one-third of Generation X (ages 37–51) investors, now called the "Sandwich Generation," are confident in their ability to address their financial concerns, while 7 in 10 Millennials (ages 21–36) are fairly optimistic about their financial future. This is despite the fact that 8 in 10 Millennials have either delayed or expect to delay a major life event for financial reasons. In fact, nearly one-quarter of those we spoke to say they've either held off having children or buying their first home.

The lack of confidence in Gen X isn't all that surprising because they haven't saved enough for retirement and they don't have pension or defined benefit plans to fall back on. The more confident Millennials, who grew up in the information age, have had the means to build more investment knowledge.

Yet even for Millennials, there is a knowledge gap — and a clear opportunity for advisors to fill it. While 7 in 10 of those responding say that growing assets and generating income are their primary objectives, this generation has more than a third of its assets allocated to cash and certificates of deposit, which are geared toward protecting capital and offer very modest rates of return.

What is behind the disconnect? The survey found that 60% of Millennials feel overwhelmed by the number of available investment choices — further proof that access to a seemingly limitless supply of online financial resources doesn't necessarily lead to better decisions. This is a clear opportunity for advisors to solve a problem and add value. And so are the other top concerns reported by investors across generations, including saving enough for retirement, creating retirement income, maintaining adequate health care coverage and minimizing tax obligations. Recognizing advisors' need to educate clients and influence their behavior, we've built a full complement of educational materials, checklists and action items into our Heritage Planning program to support their efforts.

From the 30,000 foot view, the survey results confirmed our expectations. In the decades we've been supporting advisors and their clients, we've seen the same broad concerns play out time and again: having enough money to support a lifestyle and long-term goals, investing through tough markets and worrying about how global politics and economics could impact financial planning. These concerns are very real and directly impact the way people live their lives.

We're always mindful that this business is about people — those trying to manage their money and support their lifestyles and those, such as advisors and investment managers, trying to help them. While the intelligence from this survey is critical to share, and it helps advisors know what issues to address with their clients, we also have to give them actionable resources to help them have those conversations. This is precisely why we had the foresight to create our Heritage Planning program 20 years ago. Advisors are of great value to their clients. But advisors who have highly supportive tools — tailored for conversations such as planning for healthcare costs, intergenerational wealth transfer and even supporting elderly parents — can actually raise the value of their advice for clients.

I would encourage US advisors to visit to become familiar with the resources we provide. Try sending the relevant pieces to clients who are challenged by the many issues we cover. It's a great way to strengthen the connections with your clients — and be viewed as a trusted advisor!


The views expressed are those of Jim Jessee and are subject to change at any time. These views should not be relied upon as investment advice, as securities recommendations, or as an indication of trading intent on behalf of any other MFS investment product.

This content is directed at investment professionals only.

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