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Financial firms go after younger investors

The Baltimore Sun

It used to be that financial services firms focused most of their attention on people who had already accumulated wealth.

Now, though, much younger age groups are being embraced, even lauded.

Consider this statement from one brokerage: "Gen X-ers ... have actually done a better job of planning for a financially secure retirement than their elders, the boomers."

There are a few reasons for the sudden courtship.

One reason is that financial advisers say that today's twenty- to fortysomethings face a far more complex financial landscape than their parents did.

With pensions dwindling as a standard benefit, for example, workers are left on their own to save and invest for retirement.

Rising housing and education costs also have to be budgeted for, and debts such as student loans need to be paid down.

"This generation of folks are looking for help with their overall financial picture, not just retirement," said Jonathan Craig, a Charles Schwab & Co. vice president who heads the company's new younger-investor initiative. "And we're acknowledging that they're not being served well by the industry yet."

Another reason for the interest in younger investors is that firms stepping in stand to benefit.

A recent study from brokerage firm Edward D. Jones & Co. found that 68 percent of the work force between the ages of 25 to 34 put away money for retirement. When today's retirees were that age, only half the number had saved.

Financial services companies "recognize that people in or near retirement have the most money now, but younger people can be future customers, and it will pay off down the road," said David Kathman, a mutual fund analyst at research firm Morningstar Inc.

The net result not only means more marketing materials to wade through - Schwab, for example, is starting to advertise in lifestyle magazines such as Parenting - but also more services tailored for younger investors.

Some features:

Lower costs.

To attract young investors, fund companies and brokerages are removing costs that made it difficult to start investing on a tight budget.

In April the Vanguard Group Inc. pared its fee structure to a $20 annual fee on low account balances. Sign up for electronic delivery of statements, reports and prospectuses, and the fee is waived.

Schwab lowered account minimums to $1,000 this year. Before, you needed $2,000 to open an individual retirement account and $2,500 to start a brokerage account.

And for several years many investment shops have waived the minimum investment requirement as long as you sign up for automatic monthly contributions, which start as low as $20.

More online tools.

Appealing to young investors' technological savvy, some firms have introduced online tools that can help you put together a financial plan or learn more about investing.

Last fall Fidelity Investments launched a calculator called myPlan, which projects your retirement nest egg based on your current savings, investment approach and monthly contributions. See the Fidelity Web site, under Retirement & Guidance. Click on Investment Guidance.

"It's not a substitute for a detailed plan," a company representative said, "but it is meant to help investors overcome inertia."

Vanguard this year began providing podcasts on investment topics, including the differences between individual bonds and bond funds.

And Schwab put together a Web site dedicated to financial issues for young adults, such as whether to save first or pay off debt (

Financial guidebooks.

Finally, more guidance is being published with young investors in mind.

Last month, T. Rowe Price Group Inc. came out with the Smart Financial Living guide, the fund company's first publication to take a broader look at saving and investing, not just retirement. Though targeted at young investors, the guide is being offered to all Price clients.

"Part of this was to be able to offer a free resource that older investors who are existing customers could give to their children and grandchildren," a Price representative said.

Carolyn Bigda writes for Tribune Media Services.

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