A few months ago, Ian Yankwitt was in his car when he got a call on his cell phone from a client with a multimillion-dollar portfolio who was worried about how her investments were doing after a few rough weeks for the stock market. Yankwitt, president of Tortoise Investment Management in White Plains, N.Y., spent some time reassuring her that because she and her husband had well-diversified investments they were probably running about even for the month, but that he would check back with her when he got to the office.

As it turns out, the problem lay in perception. "She was focusing on one account that was down 4% for the month, but their other accounts were up by nearly as much," he says. "So their entire portfolio was actually down less than 1% in a brutal market. She just needed to understand the real numbers."

A flurry of recent studies of the millionaire investor market by both financial services companies and research groups suggests that phone calls similar to the one Yankwitt received may not be that unusual these days. They reveal that members of the coveted group, typically more optimistic than the broader population, are more concerned about the stock market and the economy than they have been in several years.

Millionaire investors became mildly bearish beginning in March, according to the Spectrem Group, marking the first time they had expressed that level of concern since the firm began tracking their sentiments over four years ago. Another Spectrem study indicating that the number of U.S. households with a net worth of $1 million or more rose just 2% in 2007, its slowest pace in more than five years, raised concerns about the sluggish growth of the millionaire market and the possibility of flat or even negative growth in 2008. "The substantial gains in the number of millionaire and ultra-high-net-worth households we've seen since the end of the dot-com bust has all but ground to a halt," warns George H. Walper Jr., president of Spectrem Group, in a press release.

Other reports have reached similar conclusions. The Fidelity Millionaire Outlook 2008, released in May, indicated that millionaires' overall current view of the U.S. economy is "very weak," down from a strong level of confidence a little more than a year ago. According to American Express' Annual Survey of Affluence and Wealth in America, nearly 80% of affluent Americans believe the U.S. is in a recession.

With millionaire clients sweating a little more than usual and growth in their ranks stagnating, financial advisors serving that market need to put the focus on keeping things upbeat, staying in touch on a regular basis and presenting opportunities, according to Katia Walsh, vice president at Fidelity Institutional Wealth Services.

In 2001, financial services companies reached out to millionaires by speaking to their fears that their stock market gains would be wiped out, and so promoted shifts to more conservative investments and cautioned sitting tight, says Walsh. While such an approach might work with the average investor, she notes, "it probably won't sit well with wealthier clients. You have to appeal to the opportunistic side that helped make them millionaires in the first place."

Walsh points out that while millionaires are showing some pessimism about the financial markets this year, many foresee a turnaround at the beginning of 2009, and more than one-quarter are planning to increase their exposure to stocks in the coming year. Because of this, well-researched equity "bargains" might sound interesting to them, she says. Slightly more than half of the respondents to the Fidelity survey thought there were likely to be significant increases in taxes on income, capital gains and dividends, so discussions about tax savings and tax-advantaged investments are also likely to be well-received.

Schwab Institutional's David Welling, a vice president who works in marketing and advisor relations, believes that angst among high-net-worth clients may not be as prevalent in the millionaire market as some surveys suggest. "Our research indicates that only 18% of advisors said their clients were coming to them for reassurance about the markets," he says. "That's a good number, but not the overwhelming majority."

Still, Welling says he has "heard from some quarters that there is more anxiety about reaching long-term goals," even among the high-net-worth crowd. "In this kind of environment, advisors definitely want to be communicating on a regular basis," he says. "That may include regular meetings, phone calls-initiated by the advisor rather than the client-newsletters or client education events."

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