What are Millennial investors’ priorities?

By Ken Tysiac

Millennials are similar in many ways to investors from older generations in their attitudes and confidence about investing, a survey released Thursday shows.

But Millennials are more likely than their counterparts in other generations to use an unexpected windfall to pay down debt—and they also are more concerned about cybersecurity when they invest, according to the ninth annual Main Street Investor Survey conducted by the Center for Audit Quality.

The Center for Audit Quality (CAQ), which is affiliated with the AICPA, chose to highlight data on Millennials in this year’s version of the survey because of the generation’s growing impact on the global economy. Millennials recently became the generation with the largest representation in the U.S. workforce, according to a recent Pew Research study. Millennials were defined in the survey as respondents age 18 to 34.

“They are a growing segment of our population and such an important part of our workforce,” CAQ Executive Director Cindy Fornelli said during a conference call with reporters. “They’re just now entering the workforce, they’re just now investing and opening accounts, and I think now and well into the future, their opinions and points of view and decisions will impact the market.”

Millennial investors participating in the survey closely mirrored other investors with their views on topics such as:

  • Confidence in U.S. markets (76% of Millennials and 73% of all respondents expressed at least some confidence).
  • Confidence in U.S. publicly traded companies (76% of Millennials and 78% of all respondents expressed at least some confidence).
  • Entities they trust to look out for investors. Millennials and investors overall both chose independent auditors of publicly traded companies as the group they trust most, with 77% of Millennials and 76% of all respondents displaying at least some confidence.

“In many respects, Millennials do not look much different from the broader investing population,” Fornelli said. “By and large, they are confident in U.S. capital markets and key capital markets players.”

There were some differences between Millennial investors and other respondents:

  • If presented with an unexpected $10,000 windfall, 38% of Millennial investors would use it to pay down debt, compared with 31% of all investors.
  • Millennials were more likely (37%) than overall respondents (32%) to say their top concern about risks to their investment portfolio is cyberrisks targeting their financial information or the capital markets.
  • Compared with all investors (26%), Millennials (35%) were more likely to describe themselves as willing to take risks after completing adequate research.

The overall results of the survey were similar in many ways to the 2014 survey. An identical percentage (73%) expressed at least some confidence in U.S. capital markets, and confidence in investing in U.S. public companies dipped just slightly to 78% from 80% in 2014.

But confidence in capital markets outside the United States slid. Just 38% of investors said they have at least some confidence in capital markets outside the United States, down from 43% last year. Millennials were a bit more positive in 2015, with 43% expressing at least some confidence in markets outside the United States.

“Investors cited the debt crisis in Europe, particularly Greece, as well as the general sense that the global economy is not stable, as reasons for their concern,” Fornelli said.

Ken Tysiac (ktysiac@aicpa.org) is a JofA editorial director.

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