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Opportunity for financial firms grows as study shows blacks increase stock investments

(February 10, 2016) Middle-class African-Americans are investing more in the stock market than they have in over a decade, according to the Ariel Investments 2015 Black Investor Survey. The survey of 500 black and 500 white households with incomes of at least $50,000 found that 67% of African-Americans are invested in stocks or stock mutual funds, compared to 86% of whites.

While blacks are still comparatively under-invested in stocks when compared to white households, that percentage is on an upward trend, from 60% in 2010 and 57% in 1998, the first year Ariel conducted the study. White household investing has also risen since 2010, from 79% to 86%.

Additionally, the survey found that African-Americans are more optimistic about the economy than their white counterparts. Compared to whites, African-Americans are more likely to feel hopeful about the current U.S. economy (75% vs. 50%), feel that the economy has fully recovered or is on its way to full recovery since the recession (65% vs. 40%) and feel bullish about the stock market (65% vs. 53%). These findings are in stark contrast with the results of the 2010 survey, when just 43% of African-Americans were bullish compared to 60% of whites.

"If anyone were ever poised to invest with confidence, it's the black community," said Mellody Hobson, President of Ariel Investments. "This optimistic sentiment marks a time of tremendous opportunity, not only for African-Americans to take further advantage of the stock market's wealth building potential, but also for the financial services industry to reach out to this historically under-served group."

The Golden Door: Employer Retirement Plans

Seven in 10 African-American investors cite workplace retirement plans as a contributing reason for becoming an investor -- double the rate of the next most common reason -- having extra cash on hand they wanted to grow. Over half of African-American investors say workplace plans are the most important reason for becoming an investor -- more than four times more common than having extra cash. For white investors, workplace retirement plans are also an important reason, but to a slightly lesser degree (63% cite them as a reason, while 45% say they are the most important reason).

Furthermore, for non-investors, retirement plans were cited as the most likely entry point into the world of investing. When non-investors were asked their likelihood to invest under various circumstances, 58% of African-Americans and 63% of whites said they would be likely to invest if their employer offered a good 401(k) plan.

"Clearly, access is a key factor," said Hobson. "My hope is that as more employers offer retirement plans, we will continue to see both white and black participation in the market continue to rise, better preparing everyone for retirement and other financial goals."

In fact, the survey found that retirement is a rising priority for both racial groups. In 2000, 33% of African-Americans said their most important goal for saving and investing was for retirement. This year, 44% of African-Americans see retirement savings as most important -- over twice as many as save for any other goal. In 2000, about half of whites were focused on retirement savings. In 2015, six in 10 whites state this as their primary goal.

A New Age for Investing

The study found that income is a key factor in African-American stock market participation, with only 57% invested at the income range of $50,000-$100,000 compared to 81% at the range of $100,000 and above. For whites, the discrepancy was smaller (83% versus 92%). A high level of education is also a predictor for African-Americans participating in the market. Blacks with a graduate degree have a 72% participation rate, as compared to college graduates and below who participate at a rate of 63%. For whites, the difference is not statistically significant (88% versus 86%).

More noteworthy, the survey found that age plays a surprising role in investing. The lowest participation in the stock market among African-Americans is among seniors: only 56% of those 65 and older are invested (compared to 88% of whites in that age bracket). For whites, the lowest participation was among those under 40 (73%) while the black under 40 demographic followed closely behind (67%).

"I'm encouraged that younger African-Americans are investing more," said John W. Rogers, Jr., Chairman and CEO of Ariel Investments. "Black Millennials are investing at nearly the same rate as their white counterparts. This could signify a phasing out of the long-standing distrust of the stock market that our community has had."

A Wide-Angle View

Collecting data since 1998, the Ariel Investments Black Investor Survey has found year after year that African-Americans are less likely to have money in the stock market than whites. White participation rates have fluctuated between a low of 76% in 2007 and a high of 86% this year, whereas black participation rates have swung between a low of 57% in both 1998 and 2007 and a high of 74% in 2002. This year, the white investment rate reached an all-time high, while the black investment rate is at its highest level since 2004 (68%).

"Although we have more work to do, I am pleased to see this upward trend," said Hobson. "The stock market has outpaced every other investment over the long-term, and I am most encouraged that African-Americans are participating at the greatest rate since the high point more than 10 years ago."


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