Asian Americans Need More General Financial Education

Asian Americans are focused on saving for retirement, but that competes with a focus on taking care of extended family.

Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders have a shared focus on the financial progress, stability and security of the extended family. At the same time, Asian Americans face many of the same financial challenges as the U.S. general population, such as saving for retirement and managing household budgets, according to the Asian American Financial Experience study from Prudential.

Asian Americans surveyed place a higher importance on providing college tuition for their children, and taking care of family members as one of their top financial goals compared to the U.S. general population. Approximately one-third of Asian Americans identify themselves as caregivers for another person (e.g., spouse, parent, relative), compared to 22% of the U.S. general population. In addition, 20% of Asian Americans provide financial assistance to their relatives, versus only 6% of the U.S. general population.

Sri Reddy, head of Full Service Investments at Prudential Retirement in Hartford, Connecticut, says that while retirement is important, the focus on family is equally important to Asian Americans, so plan sponsors and advisers can provide tools and solutions for total financial wellness, such as college planning, caretaker planning and long-term care. “The study shows clearly that Asian Americans don’t want to be a burden on their own children, so they are also open to saving more on their own,” he adds.

According to the study, Asian Americans feel better off financially than the general population and better prepared for retirement. Asian Americans believe they will be able to retire at age 64.6—more than a year earlier than the U.S. general population.

Reddy says there are three factors in play for Asian Americans feeling better off financially. Most Asian Americans live on the East Coast or West Coast where incomes tend to be higher than the national average, so their savings is also higher. Most are the first generation of immigrants and they typically obtain Visas for jobs requiring higher education. This means they are working for larger employers that are more likely to offer a defined contribution retirement plan. In addition, when an immigrant comes to a new country, they don’t have a safety net if things go astray, so they start saving right away. According to Reddy, most survey respondents have a year’s worth of rainy-day funds.

Like the U.S. general population, Asian Americans rank retirement-related goals, such as having enough money to maintain current lifestyles through retirement (49%) and not becoming a financial burden to loved ones (38%), among their top financial priorities. Reddy says plan sponsors and advisers can help with these goals by providing broad-based education and guidance. “It’s not just about a single point in life; for example, they need to make the right decisions about debt,” he explains. “Debt is not always a bad thing. If someone can get a mortgage at a low interest rate, they can save more for retirement. But if the person is not aware of the choices, they could make an inappropriate choice.”

NEXT: Financial professionals not always trusted

Asian Americans are more inclined to seek out information before making a financial decision and respondents indicated they consult more resources than the U.S. general population (5.8 resources on average versus 4.1). Family members are cited as preferred source of financial information by 44% of Asian Americans, followed by friends (37%), financial professionals (36%) and employer or employer-sponsored resources (35%). Asian Americans surveyed also demonstrate a higher propensity to consumer information from less traditional sources, such as social media (18%), investment clubs (13%) and faith-based organizations (13%).

Only 18% of Asian Americans work with a financial professional compared to 26% of the U.S. general population, although 43% of Asian Americans who don’t did indicate they are open to the idea. Reasons cited for not using a financial professional include “fees are too high,” “I don’t feel I have enough assets” and “I prefer to do it on my own.” More so than the general population, though, Asian Americans responded that they “have never found one I can trust.”

To improve trust, Reddy says advisers need to approach Asian Americans with a high degree of empathy, and approach them as a financial partnernot someone selling solutions. “Partner with them and understand their point of view about being savers first and investors second. Understand their desire to take care of generations above and below,” he adds. ”Don’t try to use fear as motivator; they are incredibly optimistic about their finances and U.S. economy. Talk about why certain behaviors are right.”

Reddy notes that Asian Americans prospects on average have $100,000 more to save than the general population. And, this is a population that was very tiny, but has grown in last 50 years to 20 million, and that is expected to double in the next 20 or 25 years.

Full survey results are here.