The average account balance of retirement savers who report using an advisor was $449,552, almost twice as much as the $234,643 average of non-advised accounts. (Photo: Shutterstock)

There’s no shortage of messaging from the retirement industry selling the value proposition of working with a financial advisor.

But does the rank-and-file 401(k) participant really need investment direction outside her employer’s plan platform?

Maybe, maybe not. But a look at how savers who utilize self-directed brokerage accounts fare when working with an investment professional may provide fodder for advisors’ value proposition.

Charles Schwab’s third quarter SDBA Indicator report examines the investment behaviors of advised and non-advised participants that invest through plan brokerage windows.

Of the 137,000 accounts reviewed in the report, only 19 percent of savers report working with an advisor.

When they do, they are wealthier and tend to spread risk more sensibly.

The average account balance of retirement savers who report using an advisor was $449,552, almost twice as much as the $234,643 average of non-advised accounts.

Are those advisors responsible for creating all of that extra wealth? Larry Bohrer, vice president of corporate brokerage retirement services at Schwab, draws an unambiguous conclusion from the data.

“The report highlights the benefits of working with an advisor,” Bohrer said in a statement. “In general, participants who had professional help were more diversified across all of their holdings. In addition, advisors typically rebalance a portfolio more often and keep their clients invested.”

Advised accounts averaged 9.5 total trades, compared to 5.5 in non-advised accounts. Advised accounts also held lower concentrations of individual securities. Apple, the most popular equity holding for all brokerage window participants accounting for nearly 10 percent of holdings, was aggregated less aggressively by advised participants, who held 5.8 percent of their equity assets in the single stock, compared to 11 percent for non-advised investors.

Non-advised participants held four times as much cash, at 16.5 percent, in a quarter that saw the S&P 500 Index gain 7 percent. Advised accounts held an average of 4 percent cash.

Payroll contributions to plan brokerage accounts are typically disbursed in cash. That non-advised accounts hold considerably higher cash positions is best explained by the focus an advisor can bring to a participant’s account, according to a statement from the firm.

But perhaps the greatest distinction is in the way advised accounts use mutual funds to spread risk. Mutual funds accounted for the largest portfolio allocation, at 50 percent, whereas non-advised accounts allocated only 32 percent of holding to mutual funds. For those going it alone, the largest allocation was to individual equities, at 35 percent.

When advised investors do buy individual stocks, the top holdings show greater allocation across the economy’s sectors. Apple, Amazon, and Berkshire Hathaway were the top three holdings in both advised and non-advised accounts, and so-called “FANG” stocks—Facebook, Apple, Netflix, and Google—are favorites across the board.

But advised investors also held Visa, JP Morgan, Johnson and Johnson, Chevron, and Cisco within the top 10 individual stock holdings.


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