In Sickness and in Wealth: Atlantans’ New Happily Ever After

November 30, 2018 at 9:00 AM Eastern

Atlanta residents are prioritizing money over love, as 55 percent of Atlantans say they want a partner who provides financial security more than “head over heels” love (45 percent). While both genders agree, women are slightly more likely than men to prioritize financial security over love (57 percent, compared to 51 percent).

This reliance on others mirrors national trends from the latest Merrill Edge Report, which explores Americans’ increasingly complex relationship with their money, significant others and financial futures. Merrill Edge releases this biannual report of 1,000 respondents to take an in‑depth look at the ever-evolving financial concerns and priorities of mass affluent Americans, including an oversample of 300 Atlanta residents1.

“In Atlanta and across the nation, people are relying on others for financial stability, despite their efforts to save,” said Aron Levine, head of Consumer Banking and Merrill Edge, who is based in Atlanta. “Economic uncertainty and a lack of financial planning seem to be underpinning this rising trend of dependence. We believe that it’s crucial to have a financial plan at every life stage in order to achieve financial goals and stay on the right path to financial success.”

Merrill Edge helps investors plan for the future at every stage of life with tools and resources designed to help clients build solid savings habits, budget effectively, prepare for emergencies, and invest for their life’s goals, whether saving to buy a house, paying off student loans, preparing for retirement, or simply trying to make ends meet. Clients can be self-directed; work with a Financial Solutions Advisor™; or access Merrill Guided Investing, an online advisory program that offers portfolio management strategies developed by the company’s Chief Investment Office.2 Since Merrill Edge launched in 2010, it has grown to $203.9 billion in assets and more than 2.5 million accounts.

Atlanta residents also prefer a romantic partner who is a saver (80 percent) rather than a spender (20 percent); frugal (53 percent) more than philanthropic (48 percent); and career-focused (65 percent) over socially conscious (35 percent).

The money talk

While respondents are looking to each other for their financial security, they are tight-lipped when it comes to discussing their own finances. Atlanta residents rank nearly all relationship milestones ahead of discussing finances, including meeting the family, being intimate and traveling together.

They even postpone the “money talk” with their significant others, but not as much as their national counterparts. Many admit they rarely discuss the following with their partner:

  • Salary (53 percent, compared to 57 percent nationally).
  • Spending habits (48 percent, compared to 51 percent nationally).
  • Debt (47 percent, compared to 60 percent nationally).
  • Investments (47 percent, compared to 55 percent nationally).

Saving to save

Perhaps their never-ending quest for financial security is prompting Atlantans to save at record rates. Respondents report they are willing to stash away an average of $20,000 annually on saving and investing, a rate more than 10 percent higher than their national counterparts. This is more than they are willing to spend on rent or mortgage payments ($17,000), children’s education ($13,000) and travel ($9,000).

Additionally, 21 percent of residents say nothing is constraining their ability to save for the future, while 67 percent think they can have everything they want in life, as long as they save and budget accordingly.

But it is clear that saving does not equate to planning. Despite being more prepared than their national counterparts, many Atlanta residents have no monetary goal in mind for life’s major milestones. For example, 66 percent are unsure of how much they should save before getting married. A surprising number also admit they have no “magic number” for the following:

  • Taking care of aging parents (60 percent, compared to 69 percent nationally).
  • Having a baby (59 percent, compared to 67 percent nationally).
  • Sending children to college (49 percent, compared to 54 percent nationally).

Even for retirement, 42 percent have no monetary goal in mind. And of those who do have a “magic number,” 83 percent are aiming low, reporting they are saving for less than $1 million. Atlantans also think their planned retirement age will change an average of 15 times throughout their lives.

This lack of planning extends well after they are gone. Nearly all agree that it is important to create a will, yet only 45 percent of Atlanta respondents have one.

Embracing AI in the ATL

New and emerging technologies may be the solution to planning shortfalls, especially in Atlanta. According to the report, many Atlantans admit social media impacts their finances, specifically their spending habits (47 percent), savings (41 percent), bank account (39 percent) and budget (39 percent).

Residents are also increasingly turning to artificial intelligence (AI) at higher rates than their national counterparts. The majority (59 percent, compared to 49 percent nationally) are comfortable with AI providing financial guidance, managing day-to-day finances (56 percent, compared to 49 percent nationally) and making investments (48 percent, compared to 47 percent nationally).

Atlanta respondents predict in the next five years, the investment guidance they receive will be primarily via digital channels (74 percent), mobile trades will be the norm (74 percent) and less than 20 percent of trades will occur on the New York Stock Exchange floor (67 percent).

Merrill Edge Survey Methodology

1 Convergys (an independent market research company) conducted a nationally representative, panel-sample online survey on behalf of Merrill Edge September 27-October 13, 2018. The survey consisted of 1,034 mass affluent respondents throughout the U.S. Respondents in the study were defined as aged 18 to 40 (Gen Z/Millennials) with investable assets between $50,000 and $250,000 or those aged 18 to 40 who have investable assets between $20,000 and $50,000 with an annual income of at least $50,000; or aged 41-plus with investable assets between $50,000 and $250,000. For this purpose, investable assets consist of the value of all cash, savings, mutual funds, CDs, IRAs, stocks, bonds and all other types of investments such as a 401(k), 403(B), and Roth IRA, but excluding primary home and other real estate investments. We conducted an oversampling of 300 mass affluents in Atlanta. The margin of error is +/- 3.1 percent for the national sample and about +/- 5.6 percent for the oversample market, reported at a 95 percent confidence level.

2 The Chief Investment Office (CIO) develops the investment strategies for Merrill Guided Investing (MGI), including providing its recommendations of ETFs and related asset allocations. Managed Account Advisors LLC, Merrill Lynch's affiliate, is the overlay portfolio manager responsible for implementing the MGI strategies for client accounts, including facilitating the purchase and sale of ETFs in client accounts and updating account asset allocations when the CIO's recommendations change, while also implementing any applicable individual client or firm restriction(s).

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