The birth of a new class of Investor
By Robin Bowerman
6th May 2011
Principal & Head of Retail, Vanguard Investments Australia
The global financial crisis was always going to have a profound impact on investor attitudes but the release this week of the Australian Share Ownership Study helps sharpen the focus on just how attitudes to investing are changing.
The study commissioned by the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) is the twelfth in a series that dates back to 1991 and that helps puts the impact of the GFC in context.
As a nation our share ownership levels remains high by international standards with 43 per cent of the adult population - that is 7.2 million investors - owning shares either directly or indirectly which is up slightly on two years ago.
But perhaps one of the most important themes to emerge from the study is the significant shift in attitudes reflected in the largest segment of investors that the research classifies as the "cautious consulters".
According to the research these are investors with some knowledge of markets but lack confidence in their own decision-making capabilities and as a result consult widely with professionals, family and friends to get advice or second opinions.
This group's investment focus is on long-term growth but stability and safety are clearly important. Two-thirds of this group are 45 or older, well-educated and many in the "empty nester" phase of life.
Clearly the GFC and the subsequent market volatility has shaken this group of investors' confidence with 50 per cent of them saying they are confused about the market and wary of making independent decisions.
But there is something of a silver lining. They appear to have heeded the harsh lessons of the GFC and now feel the need to learn more about investing so they can take a more active role in the management of their investments.
Indeed the ASX study found the overall number of investors who preferred to delegate the management of their investments to others has almost halved from 23 per cent in 2008 to 12 per cent in 2010.
This looks to be a fertile ground for financial advisers and full-service brokers who get their value proposition right. As a segment the cautious consulters value professional advice - and presumably are prepared to pay for it - but what the research is pointing out is that the way they interact with professional advisers is likely to change.
This represents something of a seachange for a large group of investors who previously may have been largely content to delegate investment decisions.
Their lack of confidence means they want to consult others about their investment decisions but rather than delegating are now looking more for a validation or second opinion on their strategy.
The cautious consulters, it seems, have been convinced by their experience through the GFC of the need to develop their own knowledge and skills in investment decision-making.
The share ownership study also highlights the increasing popularity of self-managed super funds - with 13 per cent having an SMSF compared with 10 per cent in 2008.
For financial advisers this is both an opportunity and a challenge. The opportunity is obvious in the sense of a large group of investors wanting advice but investors are saying they want the role of the adviser to shift away from someone who takes control and says "leave it to me" towards someone who is more a financial coach that an investor can learn from and validate decisions with.
Only time will tell but the ASX study suggests the legacy of the GFC may well be a generation of more cautious but engaged share investors.