As investors become inundated with financial advice in the news and on social media, misinformation and misguided advice from unqualified sources such as relatives, generative artificial intelligence (AI) or online influencers, has become more prevalent and actionable. However, willingness to implement and trust financial advice from online sources varies by generation, according to Nationwide’s ninth annual Advisor Authority survey, powered by the Nationwide Retirement Institute.
The survey found that more than a third (34%) of non-retired investors aged 18-54 have encountered and have then acted upon financial information seen online or on social media, which turned out to be misleading or factually incorrect. This includes more than two in five (41%) Gen Z and 34% of millennial investors.
“Social media is a powerful tool and a great resource for learning about different financial topics, but it comes with plenty of misinformation as well,” said Rona Guymon, senior vice president of Nationwide Annuity Distribution. “Online information can be inaccurate, or not applicable to your situation. That’s why it’s important to scrutinize the financial information you find online – or better yet, turn to an advisor for help.”
The impact of online misinformation
Younger investors, whose upbringing has coincided with the rise in online information (and misinformation), are navigating the financial advice they find on the internet differently from older investors, the survey said. More than two-fifths (42%) of Gen Z investors and 38% of millennial investors are accessing financial information, guidance, and advice through social media, by far the most of any generation (vs 16% of Gen X and 5% of baby boomers). Millennials (21%) and Gen Z (17%) are also the age groups most likely to turn to generative AI for financial information and guidance, compared to 7% of Gen X and 2% of baby boomer investors.
Consulting the internet for efficient and accessible information is second nature to younger investors, who are unfortunately experiencing the pitfalls of unverified financial advice in real time. More than four in ten (41%) Gen Z and 34% of millennial investors have encountered, then acted on misleading or factually incorrect financial information seen online or on social media. By contrast, older investors appear to be more cautious about online financial information, making them less likely to fall victim to misleading advice: Just 6% of baby boomer investors have acted on misleading or factually incorrect financial information seen online or on social media. This is the least of any generational cohort, according to the survey.
Younger investors more trusting of AI
While their elders take a more reserved approach to AI-generated advice, many younger investors said that their trust in financial professionals would increase if their advisor incorporated AI into their counseling process: More than a third (34%) of Gen Z investors and 37% of millennial investors said they would trust their financial professional more if they leveraged AI to inform the counsel they provided.
In turn, Gen Z and millennial investors are generally more supportive of advisors using AI to streamline their work, which can free up precious time for advisors to pursue more meaningful client interactions, one-on-one counsel, or other value-added activities. Four in ten (40%) Gen Z investors and 36% of millennial investors said they would trust a financial professional more if they leveraged AI to streamline day-to-day administrative tasks.
“While generative AI will likely continue to be an effective means of research and efficiency, it’s still important to have a qualified financial professional be part of the process,” Guymon said. “Financial professionals are familiar with the specific needs of investors and can review any AI generated advice and action steps to be sure they are in the best interest of their clients.”
Advisors finding uses for AI
While the emergence of AI may lead to further innovations in the financial sector, advisors today are playing it safe and using it as a supplement rather than a replacement for personalized advice, the survey said. Nearly a third (31%) of advisors who are planning to implement AI into their practice in the next 12 months are planning to use the platform for data insights. And more than a quarter (27%) plan to use it to onboard clients. Importantly, the same percentage (27%) plan to use it to educate clients.
Regardless of the extent to which AI is implemented, most advisors see it becoming part of their work over the next year in some capacity. For example, only 19% of advisors said that they are not planning to implement AI capabilities into their practice over the next 12 months.
Preventing clients from falling victim
To make sure that their clients do not fall victim to financial misinformation found online, advisors are leaning into educational and preventative measures to emphasize the importance of verified, reputable financial advice.
Six in ten (60%) advisors are providing guidance to their clients on a case-by-case basis when they’re approached with questions about a specific situation, and nearly the same number of advisors (58%) are educating their clients on the potential risks of misinformation found on social media and generated by AI. In addition, 47% are encouraging their clients to stick to their long-term financial plans to avoid hasty decisions, the survey said.
Client education is also a top priority for MDRT member Jennifer Mann, vice president, Lenox Advisors. Mann said that it can be dangerous for investors to act solely on online advice or any blanket advice. No two families are in the same situation, she explained. Even with the same income, one family may be about to retire with a big nest egg and no mortgage, another may have just bought their first home and had their first child with not much in the bank, while another may be drowning in credit card debt and trying to pay for college, she said. “It is our responsibility as advisors to educate our clients about the importance of personalized advice specific to their unique situation,” she said.
Another suggestion for helping clients stay away from financial misinformation comes from MDRT member Brandon Heckert, advisor/partner with FSM Wealth. Heckert said that regulation changes more rapidly in the financial-services industry than in just about any other industry. With a rapidly changing landscape, come information and resources that can easily become outdated in a matter of months, especially online.
Outdated information, in addition to websites with the primary goal of pushing a product or service, has made online research for financial planning solutions a little more complicated than one might expect, Heckert added. For a single financial question, one might find 5 different answers, depending on the date the article was written and the source. “We always tell our clients that before making an assumption or decision based on something found online, run it past us first,” he added. “We want to be that unbiased source of reliable information to our clients. By providing our own content and resources to our clients via quarterly newsletters, weekly market commentaries, or periodic reviews, they will typically come to us first when they have a question on their plan anyway.”
MDRT member Brenton Harrison pointed out that no license is needed to give financial advice online, and there is no regulatory authority that governs what’s shared. Harrison is a financial advisor with New Money, New Problems. “If someone gives advice that ends up harming their followers, there’s little consequence to them or mechanism to hold them accountable,” he added. “While this doesn’t mean all online financial advice is bad, the listener must exercise caution before they act on it in their personal life.”
For additional insights on this Advisor Authority data, see the infographic. Nationwide’s ninth annual Advisor Authority study powered by the Nationwide Retirement Institute explores critical issues confronting advisors, financial professionals, and individual investors—and the innovative techniques that they need to succeed in today’s complex market. The research was conducted online within the U.S. by The Harris Poll on behalf of Nationwide from August 14-30, 2023, among 507 advisors and financial professionals and 2,404 investors ages 18+ with investable assets (IA) of $10K+.
Ayo Mseka has more than 30 years of experience reporting on the financial services industry. She formerly served as editor-in-chief of NAIFA’s Advisor Today magazine. Contact her at [email protected].
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