Merrill Lynch: Wealthy afraid of health care costs, retirement

Apr 20, 2010 @ 4:08 pm

By Hilary Johnson

Wealthy individuals may be more confident about the economy, but they're more concerned about being able to pay for health care — and having enough to live on in retirement — according to the results of a quarterly survey released today by Bank of America Corp.

More than half (56%) of respondents to the Merrill Lynch Affluent Insights Quarterly survey said they were unsure about factoring health care costs into retirement planning. That's up from 40% in the last quarterly survey, which was released in January.

The percentage of survey respondents who said they are concerned about whether their assets will last throughout their lifetime rose to 61% last quarter, from 53% in the fourth quarter.

In addition, the Merrill survey showed that women are more worried than men about virtually all financial issues, usually demonstrating this in the survey by responses that were 10 or 15 percentage points higher than for men. Seventy-percent of women, for example, said they were concerned about the rising cost of health care, compared with 54% of men. Asked if they were worried about the “impact of the economy on my ability to meet financial goals,” 56% of women respondents said they were concerned, compared with 42% of men.

It's evident from the survey that women are involved in a broad range of financial issues in the household, Bank of America executives said on a conference call held to discuss the survey results. Women are more worried than men about caring for aging parents; keeping up charitable donations in a tough economy; and putting children through school, for example. For those women who are part of the “sandwich generation” — taking care of both children and aging parents — fully half of said they make “lifestyle sacrifices” to support the family's needs, compared with 26% of men.

The survey data shows that women have a great deal of influence in affluent households, suggested Andy Sieg, head of retirement and philanthropic services at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Their role is a “bit broader and more comprehensive,” Mr. Sieg said on the call.

Advisers should keep in mind the greater role of women in financial decision making when they're engaging with clients, added Lyle LaMothe, head of U.S. wealth management for Merrill Lynch. There's an “improvement in the balance” of the discussion when advisers interact with both husbands and wives, he said.

Overall, worry over finances means that consumers are increasingly seeking out advisers, and they're generally happy with the results, the Merrill survey showed.

Nearly half (44%) of affluent Americans surveyed said they work with a financial adviser, and among them 81% are satisfied with the help they receive. Also, among the 56% of respondents not currently seeking advice from a financial adviser, 25% believe they would benefit from working with an adviser.

The Affluent Insights Quarterly survey was conducted for Bank of America by Braun Research, from March 3 to March 15 this year. It captured a sample of 1,000 affluent respondents with investible assets of $250,000 or more.

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