“Giving back” Important For Most High Net-Worth Individuals

May 29, 2015       Mark Hrywna      

More than half of high net-worth (HNW) individuals consider “giving back to society” essential to a life well lived, and another one-third describe it as “important,” for a combined 86 percent.

Released on Thursday, the 2015 U.S. Trust Insights on Wealth and Worth Survey is the fifth annual study focused on high net-worth and ultra high net-worth adults. It surveyed 640 adults with investable assets of at least $3 million, not including the value of their primary residence.

This year’s study explored the concept of “a life well lived.” U.S. Trust President Keith Banks said the survey examines the questions of what that means, what contributions can be made to it, and whether it can be planned for in advance. “With great wealth comes the power to create change,” he said.

Most of those surveyed participate in traditional philanthropic activities, such as charitable giving (78 percent) and volunteering (66 percent). A “notable portion” of the wealthy finds ways of giving back through their work, investment decisions and leadership in the community, such as 37 percent who create jobs and opportunities.

Among the survey’s other findings when it comes to “giving back”:

  • 55 percent, a way to support interests and causes that matter most to them;
  • 43 percent, set an example for their children;
  • 33 percent, to change the world for the better;
  • 32 percent, wealthy have a moral obligation to share their good fortune with those less fortunate;
  • 30 percent, grateful for kindness or support given to me when I needed it;
  • 27 percent, giving back is a family tradition/value;
  • 15 percent, it is a tax strategy;
  • 13 percent, more money than I need; and,
  • 12 percent, I was asked to.

More than two-thirds of those surveyed have a will. Only 30 percent of Millennials said they have a will but that figure jumps to 63 percent among Gen X, 79 percent among Baby Boomers and 82 percent among Mature. A comprehensive estate plan is less common, with 46 percent of HNW individuals overall reporting having one.

Fewer than one in three HNW individuals have discussed details about their inheritance with their children while just more than a third have disclosed their wealth to their children.

The primary reason among parents who have disclosed nothing or little about their children’s inheritance, 34 percent are worried that talking about wealth will have a negative repercussion on their work ethic and in some families it was taught never to discuss wealth, about 20 percent. Another 19 percent are concerned their children will discuss it publicly outside the family while 17 percent don’t believe their children are mature enough to handle it.

A majority of investors (58 percent) agree that the social and environmental impact of the companies they invest in is important to their investment decisions and more than two-thirds (71 percent) would rather invest in companies that make a positive impact than harmful ones.

Approximately 10 percent of HNW individuals own social impact assets. Another 22 percent are interested in owning or employing impact investing strategies. Millennials, women and those with the greatest level of wealth are most interested in social impact investments. Interest is nearly twice as high among females (31 percent) as males (16 percent). Among age groups, it’s highest among millennials at 43 percent, compared with 23 percent among Gen X, 17 percent among Baby Boomers, and 13 percent among Mature.

Almost two-thirds of those surveyed think they can achieve market-rate returns investing in these types of companies. Some 43 percent believe their investment decisions are a way to express social, political and environmental values. The younger HNW (85 percent), women (71 percent), and the wealthiest are most likely to feel that way.

When it comes to social impact investing, among those who said they own or are interested in owning such assets:

  • 55 percent said it’s the right thing to do;
  • 47 percent said Corporate America should be held accountable for its actions and that private investors can hold them to it;
  • 47 percent said it’s a desire to make a positive impact on the world; and,
  • 43 percent have strong feelings for certain social, environment, or governance issues.

Among those who said they don’t own social impact investing, the most common barriers included:

  • 46 percent, don’t mix philanthropic goals and investing goals;
  • 29 percent, it’s not important;
  • 27 percent, it’s not possible to measure impact;
  • 23 percent, unwilling to accept lower returns on investments; and,
  • 10 percent, don’t understand these types of investments.

“Our clients, especially again among millennials and women, as we work with them on investment strategies, are translating it and trying to embed” impact investing into their portfolio, Banks said. Asset levels are growing fast, and people do want to “walk the walk” on impact investing, he said.

There was a time when impact investing was viewed as having to give up returns in the process. “What good managers have demonstrated is that you don’t have to give up strong returns,” he said. “We’re in the very early innings of this. I think it’s going to grow significantly in interest. The real drivers will be Millennials and women,” Banks said.