Many Americans don’t know who to trust for financial planning

Recent surges in inflation, rising interest rates and volatile market conditions are just the latest stumbling blocks Americans are experiencing as many struggle to build a more financially secure future.

And many are, in fact, struggling to grow their wealth. The U.S. median real household income fell 2.9% between 2019 and 2020.1

Over the same period, the official poverty rate rose nearly 1% — and if that doesn’t sound like bad news, it was a reversal after five years of declines in poverty.1 The following year’s real median household income wasn’t statistically different from 2020, and neither was the U.S. rate of poverty.2

U.S. adults who work with a financial professional report significantly greater certainty in their ability to plan for retirement — 22.9 points higher on a scale of 1 to 100 — over those who don’t work with an advisor.3 They’re also more confident about managing debt, affording healthcare, dealing with unplanned financial emergencies and their long-term financial security.3

Financial professionals clearly have something of value to offer — yet it may take some bridge-building to reach the hard-working, middle-income prospective clients who may have the most to gain.

U.S. adults recognize their financial planning skills are lacking

Sixty-two percent of Americans acknowledge a need for improvements in their financial planning — and yet, only 35% reported working with a financial professional.3

The decision not to get professional help with financial and retirement planning can have wide-reaching impacts on family life, work life and overall well-being, too. Financial uncertainty affects people’s mental and physical health, relationships, job performance and more. In fact, 36% of people reported feeling depressed at least once a month as a result of the level of financial uncertainty they experience.3 People are losing sleep, missing out on socializing, and even feeling physically sick as a result of financial concerns.

So where are people actually turning for help?

Number one for advice? Friends and family

From government agencies to employer-sponsored financial resources to financial professionals, U.S. adults could access many sources of reliable financial planning, investing and retirement planning advice and tools. Yet their top sources of information don’t reflect such a wealth of information or a preference for knowledge over convenience or immediate access.

Government websites like and the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Office of Investor Education and Advocacy provide free educational content and tools ranging from interactive games and calculators to informational guides on the basics of investing. 

And while the internet was the second-most popular source of financial advice among parents surveyed with 33% saying they used online resources, family and friends were far-and-away the number one source — with prayer following just a few points behind the internet, at 29%.

That leaves advisors in fourth place, with just 27% of parents turning to professional advice.4

Better understand clients to meet individual needs

What lesson should professionals take away from numbers like these? Do they really trust that Uncle Bob is the authority on financial planning and investing for retirement, or is there more to it?

Perhaps it’s time to recognize the value people truly place on relationships, and dig deeper to understand the effects of human connection. It’s no surprise that people choose friends and family for advice over-educated, credentialed professionals. Maybe they feel better understood by the people in their closest circles — and if not well-understood, at least listened to.

Being heard and understood in terms of values and emotions is so important … yet it’s rarely a substitute for sound financial help. That’s where a financial professional’s approach comes in, and behavioral financial advice can help bridge the gap.

It starts with helping clients understand and articulate their emotions, values and behavioral impulses around finances. When you help a client prioritize their values, you’re demonstrating a willingness to meet them where they are. By listening actively and teaching them to recognize financial anxiety’s physical effects, you’re differentiating yourself as focused on their individual well-being and able to coach them toward more rational financial choices.

Plus, building professional relationships and cultivating client confidence is a key first step in growing client referrals over time.

Start with an award-winning program in Behavioral Finance Advice

CUNA Mutual Group’s award-winning Behavioral Finance Advice program was created to help advisors develop the skills to improve client decision-making using a rational approach grounded in their own values. Support clients’ ability to confidently face uncertainty and make rational choices, even when unplanned events arise.

Just click to explore our resources in behavioral finance and learn more about our Behavioral Finance Advice Program.



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