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If the wild market swings of the past week have you feeling anxious about your portfolio, you’re not alone. Even wealthy investors say a volatile stock market puts them on edge, perhaps because so much of their money is bound up in stocks.
A new study finds that almost 40% of affluent investors don’t trust themselves to manage their own investments during market downturns—in fact, more than 60% of those surveyed say they currently work with a financial adviser. (Although the study targeted people with more than $250,000 in financial assets, the group surveyed had a median $450,000 parked in the stock market.)
It's not just wealthy investors who are worried about their finances, of course. Another recent survey found that 62% of Americans overall reported being kept awake by money concerns, though the percentage is smaller than in past years. Among those losing sleep, 40% reported worrying about retirement savings; among those ages 50-54, fully half said this concern keeps them up at night.
No question, the markets have been especially turbulent lately. After a fairly quiet spring, the VIX—a measure of volatility in the S&P 500—jumped at the end of June, as the Greek debt crisis and China's stock market turmoil made headlines. Plus, a technical glitch shut down the New York Stock Exchange. (The crisis in Greece appears be on track to a resolution, but China's shaky stock market may yet upend global markets.)
The Surge in Advice
Granted, investment surveys like these tend to play up market anxieties—and the need for professional hand-holding. Wells Fargo, the sponsor of this particular survey, made more than $800 million off its financial advisory business last year.
It's just one of the proliferating number of financial services firms offering advice to nervous investors. That list includes not only brokers (like Wells Fargo) and fee-only advisers, but also the new breed of low-cost online investment advisory services (often labeled robo-advisers) such as Wealthfront and Betterment.
Established fund groups like Charles Schwab and Vanguard have also gotten into the act by offering a mix of automated advice and human guidance for significantly lower fees—or no fees at all, in the case of Schwab Intelligent Portfolios. Meanwhile, some fee-only advisers have changed their pricing model to create an offering for younger and less affluent investors, which is paid through monthly retainer fees rather than charging a percentage of assets. (Such plans give younger investors access to unbiased advice, but the resulting price tag winds up being well above the traditional 1% of assets.)
Where to Get Help
Should you opt for one of these advice services? The answer may depend on how susceptible you are to fear, greed and other portfolio-undermining emotions. If the answer is "very," there are simple ways to get some guidance.
The easiest move is to use a low-cost target-date fund, which will give you instant diversification, automatic rebalancing, and an asset mix that grows more conservative as you approach your retirement date.
You can also consider one of the online offerings. You can start small—Wealthfront, for example, just lowered its minimum investment to $500. Above $10,000, you will pay a fee of roughly 0.25% of invested assets.
But if you think you can go it alone, you can save yourself even that modest fee. After all, that Wells Fargo data shows that 61% of those wealthy investors still do trust themselves to stay calm when markets shake. If you know you'll be able to keep your head while flying solo, pick a simple portfolio allocation, fill it with low-cost index funds and rebalance once a year.
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