Bank of America (BAC) said Tuesday that its latest Merrill Edge mass-affluent survey found that 63% of the mass affluent are seeking financial information and guidance from established sources, such as financial advisors, versus, 53% in January. About 37% of the mass affluent are turning to their brokerage firm versus 32% earlier this year.
In addition, the number one factor mass-affluent Americans cite as increasing their confidence in their ability to meet their financial goals is receiving advice from a qualified financial advisor (50%). This group is also quick to adopt emerging technology, with 50% indicating that they are avid users of online banking and investing.
“Representing one out of every four U.S. households, the mass affluent have tremendous financial potential,” said John Thiel, head of U.S. Wealth Management for Merrill Lynch, in a statement. “However, we know that their financial confidence is wavering, and they still struggle to manage short- and long-term finances.”
The semi-annual Merrill Edge Report, which reviewed the financial concerns and priorities of 1,000 consumers with $50,000-$250,000 in investable assets through a survey conducted in July and August, found that 57% believe it will be harder to save for the long-term five years from now compared to today, and 27% feel it will be equally as difficult to save five years from now. As a result, one in five (21%) reported that they have increased their savings in the last year.
“Even with online and mobile banking skyrocketing, many people are still seeking guidance from a trusted advisor,” said Alok Prasad, head of Merrill Edge, in a press release. “With a wide variety of financial guidance and tools available, increasingly we are seeing clients choose a hybrid of tools to manage their finances.”
While half of mass-affluent consumers say their financial situation is the same as it was a year ago, about a quarter of this group (23%) believes their financial situation is better than it was a year ago. Those who experienced improved financial conditions attribute their success to eliminating unnecessary expenses (42%), paying bills on time (40%) and sticking to a budget (37%).
“In this uncertain environment, it’s more important than ever to stay in control of personal finances,” said Dean Athanasia, an executive in the Preferred and Small Business unit of Bank of America, in a press release. “While we cannot control what’s going on around us, we’re seeing that many mass affluent Americans are applying lessons they learned from the hardship of the recession to improve their financial management.”
BofA-Merrill added 27 Merrill Edge financial solutions advisors in Atlanta; Charlotte, N.C.; and Nashville and other nearby cities to its mass-affluent platform in late October. The bank says it is on track to nearly double the number of FSAs in branches and call centers to more than 1,000 by the end of 2011.
In addition, BofA also aims to have about 1,000 small-business bankers serving clients in the branch offices of Bank of America by early 2012.