Why young investors are more risk averse

August 7, 2023

The ranks of young Australian investors have swelled over the last two years. And many have very different investment objectives and strategies to older investors.

Young Australian investors aged 18 to 24 are likely to be more risk averse than their older counterparts and least likely to tolerate moderate or high variability in their investment returns.

These are among the key findings from the just-released ASX Australian Investor Study 2023, which also found that the main investment goal for 36% of “next generation” investors over the next 12 months is to build a sustainable income stream.

Why young investors are more risk averse

The ASX study findings are based on a survey of 5,519 Australian adults conducted by Investment Trends in November 2022.

Interestingly, only 17% of retirees (aged 65 and over) listed building a sustainable income stream as their main goal over the next year. Their biggest focus (nominated by 20% of the retirees who participated in the ASX study) is to protect their existing investments and income against markets falls.

Only 9% of next generation investors nominated this as their main goal, with maximising capital growth the top consideration for 19% of respondents in this young adult age band, followed by achieving a balance between capital growth and investment (nominated by 14%).

Profiling the next generation investors

The ASX’s study found that almost 10% of Australia’s 10.2 million investors fall into the next generation age category, and 63% of these have only started investing in the last two years.

The Next Generation Investor

Average Age

21

Median Portfolio Size

$45,500

Characteristics

 

36%

Say they are diversified

3.1

Average number of products held

46%

Prefer stable, reliable returns

43%

Informed by family and friends

53%

Prefer YouTube videos to learn about investing

Investment Holdings

 

43%

Hold Australian shares

33%

Invest in ETFs (exchange traded funds)

31%

Own cryptocurrency assets

25%

Hold international shares

Source: ASX Australian Investor Study 2023

While many next generation investors are focused on building sustainable income, the ASX study found that returns are less motivating for younger investors than for older demographics when making investment decisions.

Next generation investors rate risk (33%) and their personal circumstances (29%) above returns (25%) as their most important considerations. They also consider whether funds can be accessed at any time if their money is tied up (20%).

This makes sense given younger people typically will want to access their funds over the shorter term for lifestyle purposes, including for travel or to use investments as a deposit to buy a home.

Next generation investors are least likely to tolerate moderate (16%) or high variability in returns (10%).

The majority understand the cyclical nature of investing, with 29% saying a fall of 20% in their portfolio balances is a risk they understand could happen and another 36% saying if this happened, they would be concerned but would wait to see if the situation improved.

But the ASX study notes that the apparent financial conservatism of next generation investors is at odds with their level of investment in cryptocurrency assets.

“This product at present could be seen as a relatively risky investment, yet 31% of next generation investors hold it in their portfolios. Their median holding is $2,700, representing 6% of their total portfolio (compared to 3% for all investors). It possibly appeals to their excitement about new technologies or a desire to do things differently to their parents.”

Less likely to be diversified

Another key finding from the ASX study is that next generation investors report the lowest level of investment diversification among all age groups and are the least knowledgeable about diversification.

Portfolio diversification by age

 

Have Diversified Portfolio

Don’t Have Diversified Portfolio

Don’t Know

Next generation (18-24)

36%

38%

26%

Wealth Accumulators (25-49)

45%

39%

16%

Pre-retirees (50-64)

44%

40%

16%

Retirees (65+)

47%

34%

19%

Source: ASX Australian Investor Study 2023

Next generation investors on average have investments in 3.1 products, with one-third holding ETFs.

The ASX study points out that their diversification level is most likely due to the short amount of time in which they have been able to invest and their generally low incomes given many are at the start of their careers.

The low levels of diversification among next generation investors may also be counter-effective against their relatively high level of risk aversion.

As such, this suggests many young investors may benefit by learning more about the role of diversification in mitigating risk and in helping to stabilise returns when investing across a range of asset classes.

The ASX study found that social media is an emerging source of investment information for younger investors, with 43% also typically consulting their family and friends, 22% the ASX website, and 21% online broker websites.

Source: Vanguard June 2023

Reproduced with permission of Vanguard Investments Australia Ltd

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