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February 26, 2003
As Financial Worries Grow, So Does Demand for Advice
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ajority (61 percent) of working Americans said in a November 2002 survey conducted for American Express that they were experiencing moderate to high levels of financial stress, and one-quarter believed their financial stress had gotten worse in the last 18-24 months.

In addition, the survey found women 50 percent more likely than men to have experienced high or extremely high levels of financial stress in the previous 18-24 months.

Financial stress was greatest among those with moderate or lower income levels. Respondents with incomes of under $40,000 were 84 percent more likely than those with incomes of $40,000-$74,999, and 45 percent more likely than those with incomes of $75,000 or more, to have experienced high or extremely high financial stress in the past 18-24 months.

This increase in financial stress is prompting many workers to look for more assistance with both their retirement plan saving, and their overall financial situation. Roughly half of workers with access to 401(k) retirement plans indicated a need for assistance in deciding how to allocate their plan assets. A third of these consumers indicated that this need has increased recently given the stock market volatility.

"With prolonged market volatility, and overall economic pressure, an increase in financial stress is expected," said Rusty Field, vice president of American Express Financial Education and Planning Services. "Adding to this, people are seeing their retirement savings shrink-the money they saved and invested in the 90s, with much success, is in a reversal. So, on top of financial worries tied to the current economy such as job insecurity or debt concerns, many now feel their retirement future slowly slipping away from them-and they're seeking help."

Beyond retirement plan saving, the survey found a wide range of interest in advice on financial matters. More than half indicated an interest in comprehensive financial advice, advice on choosing among plan investment options, advice on accumulating money for retirement, and advice on how to use saved money for retirement income. Between one fifth and one quarter of the respondents are interested in advice on 401(k) rollovers, investing in stocks, managing their stock options, saving for education and debt consolidation.

"Consumers are clearly looking for advice," said Craig Brimhall, vice president of Wealth Strategies at American Express Financial Advisors. "Not only when it comes to investing within their 401(k) plan, but when they leave their jobs and move their money out of the plan. With so many tax implications, a mistake can be costly."

Survey respondents cited varying preferences for the source of retirement plan investment advice. Receiving advice by talking one on one with an advisor who comes to the workplace, or by talking to an advisor outside the workplace were top preferences.

"The evidence is there. Workers are telling their employers that they prefer some type of in person help and guidance with their retirement plan investments," said Field. "That's why it so important, in order for advice to be effective and to the point of people making positive changes, that advice is made available in a personal way. We must provide more than a web-bound model, and reach people the way they prefer to interact."

The survey was conducted for American Express by BAI Global, which in a telephone survey of nationally representative households received a total of 756 qualified consumer responses. Of those, 493 were currently enrolled in a company sponsored retirement plan, and 263 had employers that offered a retirement plan but were not currently participating in the plan. American Express Global Marketplace Insights research group provided data analysis and findings.

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