Americans Place Returns Above Values for Investments

While many prioritize social investments and community welfare when choosing investments, most opt for performance first and a profitable company whose values they disagree with vs. a struggling company whose values they like, Merrill Edge found.

While 34% of Americans describe the stock market as “volatile,” that concern doesn’t deter most from investing, according to the latest Merrill Edge Report, a survey of more than 1,000 mass affluent Americans.


Most Americans (57%) say they made money in the stock market in the past year. Seniors (68%) and Generation Xers (67%) cite the most financial gains, with Generation Z (ages 18 through 22) at 54%.


Investors are prioritizing social investments and community welfare when choosing where to put their money. Americans say they are more likely to invest in companies that:

  • Pay women and men equally (87%);
  • Promote diverse senior leadership (85%);
  • Demonstrate a commitment to environmental sustainability (82%);
  • Provide three or more months of family leave (78%);
  • Support the LGBTQ community (61%); and
  • Share their religious beliefs (62%).


However, the survey found Americans still value financial gains over social values, as they are most apt to invest in stock based on market performance (88%), closely followed by the stock’s ability to pay dividends (85%). In addition, 60% of respondents say they would be more likely to invest in a profitable company whose values they disagree with than a struggling company whose values they agree with (40%), as well as the most profitable company regardless of its sector (57%) over a company with a focus on environmental assets (43%).


Looking to others for financial advice


One in three Americans say their financial stability is dependent on receiving an inheritance. This is true for 20% of Baby Boomers, 36% of Gen Xers, 32% of Millennials, and 63% of Gen Z. In addition, respondents are becoming more likely to rely on input from others than their own instincts when making major life decisions, such as investing money (36%) and retiring (22%).


One in five respondents are more apt to rely on digital than in-person advice, and 69% of Americans believe all financial decisions will be made with the help of technology in their lifetime. Forty percent of respondents are already comfortable consulting artificial intelligence (AI) for financial guidance; many would trust AI to provide spending and saving guidance (45%) and make investments (32%).


However, survey results show in-person advice is still king. When it comes to making financial decisions, 81% of Americans are most likely to turn to a financial adviser over their closest confidants, including wealthiest friends (70%), older generations (69%) and even finance apps (50%).


“While we’re seeing rapid adoption of emerging technologies, investors truly want the best of both worlds—digital and physical—when it comes to decisionmaking, not one or the other,” says Aron Levine, head of Merrill Edge.