Who Wants To Be A Millionaire

June 17, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — Dreams of financial success are great — as long as they’re grounded in the realities of the marketplace.

An Ernst & Young survey of 900 college and university students from 22 countries revealed that 65 percent of students expect to become millionaires. And 30 percent hope to achieve that goal by age 40.

The students were polled last month at the fifth annual Ernst & Young International Intern Leadership Conference at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla.

Students’ level of optimism was down slightly from a year ago. At last year’s annual conference, before the economic slowdown hit, 75 percent of college students surveyed predicted they would become millionaires.

The 2001 survey also found that:

  • 47 percent of students plan to retire in their 50s. Only 26 percent plan to retire in their 60s.
  • 74 percent of students expect to be better off than their parents in terms of income and quality of life over their lifetime.
  • 50 percent of students chose long-term conservative stock and mutual fund investments as their primary method of saving for the future.
  • 34 percent said career development will be a priority over the next three years, and 32 percent of respondents said balancing a personal life with a career will be a priority.
  • More than 50 percent said that if they were independently wealthy and didn’t have to work, they would work just for the intellectual and social stimulation.
  • 43 percent of students said family and friends are a current priority as they manage their work and personal lives.

“Young people entering the workforce today seem very confident about their abilities to succeed in their careers,” noted James Freer, Ernst & Young vice chairman of human resources for the Americas. “But at the same time, they are coming to their jobs with their priorities focused on how best to manage their workloads and still spend quality time with their families and friends.”

All 900 of the students surveyed were Ernst & Young interns. West Michigan college students Andrea Korstange and Peter Rom were among those attending the Orlando conference.

Korstange, a senior majoring in public accounting at Hope College in Holland, was among the 65 percent of students who expect to be a millionaire someday. She has already accepted an entry-level staff accountant position with Ernst & Young, which she’ll start in the fall of next year.

From what Korstange has heard from other students, a lot of college graduates entering the workforce at age 22 or 23 are making more than their parents were in their 40s. The buzz is that starting salaries can range anywhere from $35,000 up to $60,000 to $70,000, depending on the type of work and the employer.

She’s targeting an upper executive level position and envisions herself working her way up the corporate ladder “with no top wrung whatsoever.”

“I plan to keep going and going as far as possible,” she said. At some point she expects she’ll pursue a master’s degree to help with the upward climb. She eventually hopes to have a family, too.

Korstange plans to accumulate wealth and save for the future with a combination of stocks, bonds and other investment opportunities.

“It’s not possible, even with a good salary, to become a millionaire 20 years down the road without doing so. I know it will definitely take strategic planning and the right decision-making in order to acquire that wealth.”

Rom, an accounting major in his senior year at Grand Valley State University, also believes that becoming a millionaire is an achievable goal. In talking with other area students as well as recruiters in his field, he has heard that annual salaries right out of the gate range from $36,000 to $40,000.

He said there are many career tracks a public accountant can take. To become a partner in most public accounting firms takes about 12 to 15 years.

“From people I’ve talked to, partners tend to make — depending on the firm, of course — $200,000-plus a year. I imagine I can live on less than that, so that gives me a lot to invest and save.”

He envisions plenty of job offers along the way because accountants in public accounting firms interact regularly with other area firms and get recruited heavily by private companies looking to fill positions such as controller or chief financial officer, he said.

Rom, who is originally from Cleveland, doesn’t expect to stay in West Michigan much more than five years beyond graduation. Like Korstange, he received an offer of employment from Ernst & Young , but he’s still weighing his options.

A family plays into his future plans as well.

“I don’t think any of this is really worth it unless you have someone to share it with,” he added.

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