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Blacks' wealth building weakened by competing financial priorities

Lagging investment product ownership also highlighted

5/21/2013, 2:54 p.m.

The results of a new study has found that competing priorities and fewer investment products constrict African Americans’ ability to build a legacy of wealth. The biennial study covering 2013-14 Prudential Financial, Inc. study also found that the African American community remains optimistic and continues to demonstrate financial progress, confidence and growing affluence, despite mounting debt and little contact with the financial services industry.

“The study shows increasing economic power and an emerging middle class within the community,” said Charles Lowrey, Prudential’s chief operating officer, U.S. Businesses. “Approximately 4 in 10 households surveyed have annual incomes of at least $75,000, and nearly a quarter earn $100,000 or more. Half of African Americans surveyed said they feel better off financially than a year ago, while only 19 percent say they feel worse.”

The study also brings to light distinctive characteristics of the African American community that influence financial priorities and corresponding behaviors. According to the findings, the African American financial experience is largely defined by family-oriented priorities and goals, including greater ownership of protection-oriented financial products, greater reliance on faith-based organizations as a source of financial education, financial decisions driven by women and earlier retirement.

The 2013-14 “African American Financial Experience” is Prudential’s second study measuring the financial trends and attitudes in the African American community, and is part of a series of signature research by the company examining financial trends in America’s multicultural communities.

As in the inaugural survey, only about a quarter of African Americans feel any financial services company has effectively shown support to the community. Across all levels of affluence, African Americans are 13 percent less likely than the general population to have been contacted by a financial advisor. While half of African Americans surveyed say they believe working with an advisor would help them make better financial decisions, only 19 percent say they have a financial advisor.

The study also finds African Americans remain significantly more confident and optimistic about their financial future than the general population. While the general population’s financial confidence is driven largely by level of asset accumulation and macroeconomic factors, African Americans’ financial confidence is shaped by a broader and balanced array of factors, including life insurance protection, level of debt and expenses, and health care costs.

“Family remains a key factor in the African American financial experience. African Americans also report managing more financial priorities than the general population, despite doing so with lower incomes. African Americans have a greater number of family-oriented financial priorities, like adequately protecting loved ones, leaving an inheritance and funding education,” said Sharon Taylor, senior vice president and head of human resources at Prudential.

The study also points out that African Americans are more likely to live in multi-generational and female-headed households, and to be financially responsible for supporting other family members. Of those surveyed, 57 percent provide financial support to another family member. Reflecting the impact of today’s economic condition on African Americans, the survey further revealed that many African Americans are providing financial support to unemployed friends and family – nearly double the rate among the general population.