Cash management is one of the strongest growth areas for Bank of America Corp.'s Merrill Lynch unit, Sallie Krawcheck, president of global wealth and investment management at B of A, said Thursday.
The unit has amassed $244 billion of cash deposits so far, she said on a conference call. "Clients are more conservative, and they are looking to their advisers for help," she explained. "Advisers need to look broader and deeper for the right solutions."
Krawcheck said the financial services industry is "skewed to capturing upside, but clients have told us over the past few years, 'OK, but keep me safe first,'" adding that investors are as interested in increasing their cash reserves as they are maintaining a well-allocated portfolio.
"For those that believe asset allocation is dead that is simply not true," Krawcheck said. "The benefits continue to be demonstrated. I don't think as an industry we have taken advantage of full asset diversification. We have to align our resources to what clients want and what path works for them."
Worry over market performance means affluent investors are seeking out more help. According to a quarterly survey conducted by Bank of America Merrill Lynch, 51% of affluent investors said they speak with their adviser at least once a month, up from 39% a year earlier.
"That is a real positive," Lyle LaMothe, the Merrill's head of U.S. wealth management, said during the call. "Silence is very harmful. Advisers have risen to the occasion, and we have seen an increase in our deposit base and an increase in deleveraging."
Affluent investors remain committed to their advisers. According to the survey of 1,000 Americans with more than $250,000 of investable assets, 42% have been working with their financial adviser for six to 10 years or more, and 64% for three to five years or more.
The survey also found that 84% of affluent Americans have remained with the same wealth management firm in the past year. The No. 1 reason is the strength of their relationship with their financial advisor (64%), which is more than twice as important as positive investment performance (30%).
"This bodes well for us and bodes well for our clients. The relationship clearly matters and that is encouraging for us," LaMothe said. "Advisors have become more of a financial life coach."
According to the survey, affluent investors feel better today (41%) than they did a year ago (37%) and 78% are confident their finances will improve in the next year.
But despite this confidence, 61% of those surveyed expect to retire later than planned. In January, 29% said they expected to retire later.
In the last year, 20% of affluent investors have tapped into their long-term savings and investments to meet immediate financial needs.
Their top three reasons for dipping into their nest egg were to cover regular monthly expenses (35%), pay down excess debt (27%) and compensate for a loss of income within their family (19%).
"The last couple of years have been a roller coaster for many investors as they navigated through the recession and markets," Krawcheck said. "While they believe the future may be getting brighter, many still struggle with the financial tug of war between near-term demands and future goals. During these early days of recovery, as cautious optimism influences the mind-set of investors, personalized advice can be critical to finding and taking advantage of opportunities, managing risk and addressing complex issues."