Even as the COVID-19 pandemic is upending the global economy, driving unprecedented market volatility and record jobless claims, a clear majority of American adults age 18+ (59%), as well as a subset of U.S. investors with investable assets of $100,000 or more (61%), say they fear contracting COVID-19 more than facing a U.S. economic recession.
“It has been just over one month since COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic, and it is taking a toll on every aspect of our lives,” said John Carter, President and COO, Nationwide Financial. “People are struggling, they are making sacrifices, and we firmly believe that their health and safety should be everyone’s top priority right now. We are also committed to helping Americans protect their financial health for the long term. Our latest research identifies areas where they are challenged and looking for guidance.”
Roughly one-quarter of respondents (24%) and the subset of investors (26%) are seeking help by engaging a financial advisor for the first time ever as a result of the pandemic. These are among the findings revealed by a new study from the Nationwide Retirement Institute of more than 2,000 American adults age 18+, including over 600 U.S. investors with investable assets of $100,000 or more, conducted online by The Harris Poll. The poll was conducted in April 2020.
“Right now, Americans feel a lack of control and a need for more guidance,” said Kristi Rodriguez, leader of the Nationwide Retirement Institute. “Even if they do all the right things to manage their finances and investments, the vast majority of Americans, including 80% of all respondents and 85% of investors, agree they can still be blindsided by outside events. According to 49% of respondents and 52% of investors, the COVID-19 pandemic made them realize that they need help managing their finances and investments to succeed in the future.”
Loss of Control and Need for Guidance
When asked how they feel about the impact of COVID-19 on their current personal finances, all respondents and investors are most likely to say they are cautious (38% and 41%, respectively) or uncertain (32% and 28%). If there is any silver lining, it is that roughly two in ten say they feel optimistic (18% respondents and 22% investors) and only a few say they feel hopeless (7% and 5%, respectively).
Advisors top the list of trusted sources for general financial and money management advice during the pandemic. All respondents say their top choices include a financial advisor (37%), friends & family (29%), online investment management/financial planning tools (20%), and their employer-sponsored retirement plan (20%). Investors say their top choices include a financial advisor (55%), with friends and family a distant second (26%), followed by online investment management/financial planning tools (25%) and their employer-sponsored retirement plan (24%).
Less than one-third of respondents (31%) already had an advisor, compared to more than half of investors (58%). More than one-third of respondents (35%) and nearly half of the investors (49%) are now relying on a financial advisor more than ever due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. But nearly two in ten respondents (19%) and 14% of investors say they don’t trust anyone for financial advice during the pandemic.
Top Financial Concerns and Meeting Immediate Needs
While roughly one-quarter of respondents (24%) and one-third of investors (31%) do not expect the pandemic to impact their ability to meet their financial obligations, the majority of Americans are now feeling pressure.
Among all respondents, the top three financial concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic are being unable to pay bills or meet their financial obligations (45%), losing their life’s savings (33%), and losing their employment (30%). Among investors, the top three financial concerns related to the pandemic include losing their life’s savings (41%), being unable to pay bills or meet financial obligations (34%), while they are equally worried about being unable to afford healthcare and being unable to retire as planned (both 28%).
When it comes to meeting their financial obligations if impacted by COVID-19, roughly one-third of Americans, including 32% of all respondents and 36% of investors, will tap their savings. Respondents overall are somewhat more likely than the subset of investors to need other sources such as delaying paying bills (24% vs 19%, respectively), relying on one-time payment from the stimulus package (22% vs 15%), relying on help from family and friends (19% vs 15%), and relying on unemployment insurance (13% vs 10%). Both are almost equally likely to increase credit card debt (18% vs 17%).
Solutions for Protecting Financial Futures and Loved Ones
Heightened uncertainty and complexity are driving a need for greater financial protection. Roughly half of respondents and investors agree that the COVID-19 pandemic has made them recognize the need for annuities to protect their investments against market risk (47% and 51%, respectively) and to protect their retirement income (48% and 51%). More than half of respondents and investors also say the pandemic has made them recognize the need for life insurance (57% and 55%).
Americans are also worried about protecting their families and loved ones. Roughly four in ten of all respondents and investors are concerned the COVID-19 pandemic will impact their ability to fulfill potential caregiving responsibilities for others due to financial strain (44% and 41%) or due to their own illness caused by COVID-19 (42% and 40%). The majority of respondents and investors (56% and 57%) also say that the pandemic has made them recognize the need for long-term care insurance for themselves and the people they care about.
Staying the Course for the Long Term
While the pandemic impacts immediate financial needs and the ability to care for family and loved ones, 42% of Americans say they are staying the course with their long-term investments.
When managing their qualified retirement savings plans, such as their 401(k), 403(b), 457 and IRA, in response to COVID-19, nearly half of all respondents and investors say they will make no change and stay the course (42% vs 50%, respectively). If making changes to their qualified plans, respondents and investors are somewhat more likely to move to a more conservative allocation (14% and 19%, respectively), and somewhat less likely to move to a more aggressive allocation (10% and 15%). However, respondents overall are less likely than the subset of investors to increase contributions (10% vs 16%) but also somewhat less likely to decrease contributions (10% vs 14%).
When managing their other investments, such as stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and ETFs, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many respondents and investors also say they will make no change and stay the course (35% and 42%). If making changes to their other investments, respondents are most likely to move their portfolio to a more conservative allocation (14%) or invest more in the stock market (13%), while only 10% would take money out of the stock market and only 9% would move their portfolio to a more aggressive allocation. Investors making changes to their other investments are most likely to invest more in the stock market (22%) or move their portfolio to a more conservative allocation (19%), while 15% would take money out of the stock market and 14% would move their portfolio to a more aggressive allocation.
While respondents overall are somewhat less likely than the subset of investors to meet financial obligations, if impacted by COVID-19, by selling shares in qualified retirement plans (10% vs 16%), this may in part reflect the fact that nearly two in ten respondents (18%) don’t have a qualified retirement savings plan, whereas only 4% of investors do not. Likewise, while respondents overall are less likely than the subset of investors to meet their financial obligations by selling shares in non-qualified investments (8% vs 16%), this may also reflect the fact that nearly one-quarter of respondents (24%) don’t have these other investments, whereas just 6% of investors do not.
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This survey was conducted online within the United States between April 8-10, 2020 among 2,042 adults (aged 18 and over) by The Harris Poll on behalf of Nationwide via its Harris On Demand omnibus product. This sample included 603 investors defined as those adults with investable assets of $100K+. Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region, and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.