Millennials Want Their Investing to Make a Difference | Lord Abbett

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Practice Management

Gen Y clients want advisors to build portfolios with both social and financial returns, according to two recent studies.

This Practice Management article is intended for financial advisors only (registered representatives of broker/dealers or associated persons of Registered Investment Advisors).

Millennials might be known as the "me me me generation," the tech-savvy generation that popularized selfies. Generation Y clients, however, aren't as preoccupied with themselves as they may appear when it comes to their investments. According to a recent U.S Trust study, millennials are prioritizing social, environmental issues, and the greater good when choosing an investing strategy.

Social impact investing—a strategy that combines positive social-environmental and financial returns—is the preferred financial-planning approach for young high-net-worth (HNW) clients, according to the annual U.S. Trust Insights on Wealth and Worth Survey. Bank of America's elite wealth management unit surveyed 684 HNW investors and found millennials made social impact investments more than any other age group. More than 85% of millennial respondents expressed an interest in or owned social impact investments.

"It is very much an identity point for millennials," says Jackie VanderBrug, an investment strategist with U.S. Trust. "They are conscious consumers, so it’s not surprising that they are conscious investors, too."

U.S. Trust wasn't alone in this finding. A research study—“Proving Worth—The Values of Affluent Millennials in North America,” completed by OppenheimerFunds and Campden Research—showed that 64% of Gen Y respondents were interested or very interested in impact investing.

"Millennials want to do good," says Ned Dane, head of Private Client Group at OppenheimerFunds. "They are using their family wealth to solve world issues."

Basic human rights are the primary focus of millennials' impact investing strategies, according to OppenheimerFunds and Campden Research. Both firms and U.S. Trust also cite education, healthcare quality, and environmental sustainability as some of the top issues young clients show most interest in.

When it comes to solving issues, millennials see greater value and effectiveness in using a combination of both philanthropy and impacting investing, VanderBrug says.

"Philanthropic dollars are just not enough to solve social challenges," says the U.S. Trust investment strategist. "Young investors have greater confidence in the private sector to resolve them. It is a combination of an acute sense of the needs of the world and the unprecedented belief of what capitalism can do.”

Advisors as Companions
Millennials, however, are not looking for philanthropic guidance from wealth planners. In fact, they are confident in choosing the charity of their choice, according to Dane. Young wealthy clients want advisors to help them find a social initiative and investment strategy that make a good fit, he says.

Of the OppenheimerFunds respondents, 85% say they want advisors to find and vet direct investments opportunities. The study also finds that while millennials may show strong interest in impact investing, they are still unsure of how to structure the investments.

Many advisors, however, are avoiding the conversation of impact investing because they don't feel qualified. But clients are not looking for an expert in planners, VanderBrug says.

"[Clients] want advisors to go on a journey with them, understand their social goals, and help them address portfolio questions like asset allocation strategies," she adds.

HNW millennial investors want guidance on how they could consolidate their causes into their portfolios, VanderBrug explains.

The Nuts and Bolts
According to U.S Trust, a common investment strategy is to use an integrated approach that looks at a cross section of asset classes, and then incorporates a client's desired social and financial impact with the available investment tools.

VanderBrug adds that another common strategy is to use other investments to reduce risk. Examples of impact investing include the purchase of publicly traded stocks from companies with pledged social missions or buying into funds that focus on socially responsible investing assets, such as ethical bond funds.

Clients also show interest in “green” products by venture capitalists, hedge funds, and private equity, Dane says. According to data obtained from Scorpio Partnership, millennials are five times more likely to invest in hedge fund or private equity products than previous generations.

Investment accountability, long-term investments, sustainability, and measurability are the key characteristics that ultra-HNW young clients look for in their impact-investing portfolios, according to OppenheimerFunds and Campden Research.

U.S. Trust's VanderBrug, however, points out that measurability of the impact itself in these investments is difficult to quantify and accountability remains a huge issue.

"[But] millennials have a good nose for authenticity," VanderBrug says. "They can figure out companies that have a diverse leadership and address issues proposed and promised."

Challenges Advisors Face
An advisor's main test in journeying with young clients is structuring an impact-investing portfolio that merges a desired cause with the suitable financial product, Dane says.

Wealth managers have to help clients articulate their desired social impact, while maintaining financial sense.

Many families might be open to impact investing, but their existing portfolios do not have the structure for it, Dane explains. Advisors need to foster communication between millennial clients and their families in order to smooth the transition from a more traditional portfolio approach, to a more social-centric strategy.

Financial planners also may have to learn techniques for resolving family conflicts. According to OppenheimerFunds and Campden Research, 55% of millennials felt that their advisors are only average in this delicate skill set.

Data from Scorpio Partnership also show that millennials are 10% less likely to participate in financial planning with their primary wealth managers.

OppenheimerFunds and Campden Research suggest that financial planners should maintain more frequent contact with their young clients by using communication platforms like Skype, or through weekly e-mails. Advisors also should build their contacts with young clients through referral networks. The study found that 69% of millennial clients find advisors through recommendations from family, friends, and colleagues. The study suggests this can help advisors develop long-term trust with young clients, who tend to have shorter relationships with advisors.

—by Nicholas Yeap 

Nicholas Yeap is an Associate Editor for Financial Planning, Bank Investment Consultant, and On Wall Street.

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