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Americans Serious About Improving Finances: Advisers

Many Americans headed into the new year with pledgesto get their financial houses in order, and judging from the observations of financial advisers, a good number are doing just that.

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But even with this renewed emphasis on improving financial well-being, many consumers are still falling short of their goals, stymied by overspending, the inability to save enough, and fear, according to a new survey conducted by Harris Interactive for Principal Financial Group.

The survey polled 650 financial advisers in early April, and found that about 43 percent of financial advisers "agree completely" or "somewhat" with the idea that Americas are ready to take action to improve their financial situation. Nearly three-quarters—some 71 percent—said their clients are seeking more advice than last year.

In fact, about half of those surveyed said their client base has increased in size, and 81 percent said they were reaching out to their clients more frequently.

The more robust demand for counseling has prompted many advisers to make changes to their business. One popular move is providing more education to clients, but they are also focusing on issues such as diversification of investments and paying closer attention to financial risk management.

As part of the effort to diversify and manage risk, about 62 percent of financial advisers said they were recommending more financial protection products such as life insurance and disability insurance to clients as part of a broader portfolio.

But the fear and stress that the economic downturn has caused in many clients is a situation that advisers are watching closely because it often results in consumers not taking action when they should.

"One thing advisers told us is there is a level of fear in consumers," said Timothy Minard, senior vice president, retirement distribution at the Principal. "They are realizing they don't have enough to retire, and they are asking 'what is it that I can do?'"

To conquer that, financial advisers are spending more time educating their clients, and much of the advice focuses on some basic guidelines: pay down debt, increase retirement savings, increase emergency fund savings, spend less moneyand talk with their adviser more often.

Sixty-five percent of those surveyed said they have helped clients create a financial plan to help them deal with the financial stress they are experiencing.

"Those basic fundamentals have to be tackled now, or they are going to be issues in the future," Minard said.

Minard said he found the survey results to be "very reassuring" because advisers are focusing on the fundamentals instead of looking for the "next silver-bullet" product to draw in new business.

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