A survey by Putnam Investments shows that, despite the availability of ever more sophisticated online services, a significant number of Americans still seek face-to-face advice when making decisions.
The finding is welcome to banks, which are in a unique position to offer financial advice to customers because they "have historically offered a sense of trust," said Joe Cooney, president of First Security Investor Services of Salt Lake City.
The study, which has not yet been released, found that stress, financial pressures, and inadequate family time are spurring Americans to look for expert advice on health, investments, travel, legal questions, or major purchases.
Half of those surveyed said they had sought expert advice on some issue within the preceding 12 months.
A spokeswoman for Putnam said the company drafted the survey to get a look at the changing nature of advice in America. Many professionals felt that "with the Internet people are going it alone" in grappling with major decisions, she said.
The survey showed otherwise. "One of the exciting findings is that Americans want human advisers," said Dr. Richard Geist, an instructor in the department of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School who contributed analysis to the survey.
Putnam also found that 79% of those responding had difficulty in finding a trustworthy adviser. But once they did, 57% said that they trusted "completely" the advice they received.
"This business really is a trust business," said Curt Anderson, president of First Busey Securities Inc. in Urbana, Ill. Customers value trust and empathy as much as knowledge and experience, he said.
First Busey makes customer advice the focus of its business, to the exclusion of developing proprietary products, Mr. Anderson said. "We think advice is a growth business."
Many banks have been slow to capitalize on their unique role in offering specialized advice to their customers, Mr. Anderson said. Customers will eventually demand more choices than proprietary products or trust services - which is all many banks have offered, he added.
The study also found that varied pressures of everyday life contributed to clients' need for guidance. Fully 73% of those who sought financial advice said that managing their money is stressful.
A majority (59%) also said they sought advice because of the increasing number of responsibilities they face. And 49% cited lack of time as a factor.
Only 3% said they tapped an online source for advice. Another 22% reported using the Internet for referrals.
The survey also said that 56% of those who sought advice in the past year had consulted with a broker, financial planner, or other adviser.
Of those who sought advice, 67% reported being satisfied. Respondents were equally satisfied whether they paid for the advice or not. And 88% acted on the advice whether or not they sought second opinions.
The information was gathered by telephone from 1,003 adults 25 to 69 years old during March. Neuwirth Research Inc. in New York did the survey.
A similar study recently released by Fidelity Investment Institutional Services Co. also found that Americans place a high value on personal contact. Fidelity contacted people who seek financial advice only occasionally. In this survey, 74% said that face-to-face contact is a key reason they use an adviser.