Skip to customer sign inSkip to content Skip to footer

Financial planning tips

September 30, 2015

Generation Y is too pessimistic for its own good

Millennials are the age group most likely to be very pessimistic about their personal finances and the Canadian economy in general.

One-quarter of Canadian investors aged 25 to 30 say they are either somewhat or very pessimistic about their financial future over the next five years. Twenty per cent are somewhat pessimistic; six per cent are very pessimistic. That’s just one of the headlines in a new study of Canadian investors 25 and older that my team released on behalf of Sun Life Global Investments last week.

According to the Investor Sentiment Report by Sun Life Global Investments, that negative view extends to their feelings about the Canadian economy in general. Nine per cent have a very pessimistic view of the domestic economy over the next five years. That’s more than any other age group. Generation X comes closest: Seven per cent have a very pessimistic view. Six per cent of pre-Boomers do, too.

The findings are consistent with other research we’ve conducted. The Sun Life Canadian Health Index has consistently shown that many young Canadians are highly stressed, in particular about their finances. Our most recent study -- released in September 2014 -- found that 88% of 18-to-24-year olds reported at least one source of excessive or uncomfortable stress. Forty-seven per cent said they experienced uncomfortable levels of stress related to their personal or household finances. More than one-third (37%) said the same about trying to maintain a budget.

We know young Canadians are struggling. Those who graduated from school in the years following the financial crisis have had difficulty establishing themselves. Unemployment rates among young adults remain stubbornly high: about double the national average.

There’s more to the story, though. Our study shows a degree of risk aversion among Canadian investors between 25 and 30 that is not serving them well. Conventional wisdom dictates that investors can take on more risk in young adulthood because they have a longer time horizon in which to make up for short-term losses. If you believe that capital markets move higher in the long term (a reasonable conclusion to draw based on historic returns), then you can place bigger bets in your 20s and 30s.

That’s not happening. One in five Generation Y investors (21%) told us they have a conservative portfolio. Another 32% describe their portfolio as moderate, and 38% balanced. Just nine per cent say their portfolio is growth oriented (half the number of Generation X investors who say the same thing); and a lonely one per cent say they have an aggressive growth portfolio.

While we didn’t define these categories in terms of percentages held in stocks or bonds, these findings suggest that virtually all young Canadian investors are too conservative in their portfolio decisions.

We’re not the first to report numbers like these. An important hypothesis has developed -- as a result of numerous studies -- that young investors have a view of capital markets informed too heavily by the market volatility that followed the financial crisis.

Indeed, this new Sun Life Global Investments study found that 63% of investors aged 25 to 30 say it is very or somewhat important that the decisions they make regarding their savings and investments guarantee their principal. Sixty-one per cent say it’s very or somewhat important to minimize risk.

Not surprisingly given all of this, Generation Y investors are least likely to say they work with a financial advisor (just 40% say they do; a low number among survey respondents with the requisite minimum $25,000 in investible assets). That’s a shame. Professional advice is exactly what they need.

Related articles