The younger generations, particularly millennials and Gen Z individuals, have been punched in the stomach by the economic fallout of the pandemic, struggling with a hostile job market that works against them compared to more senior hires. Increasingly today, many people aged 25-34 are coming to rely on contracting, freelance, “gig” work. Not only are great swaths of this group of young Americans disproportionately impacted by job losses, but they are also facing longer stretches of joblessness. It’s a gray and dismal picture—one that’s forcing young workers to take matters into their own hands and find alternative ways to maintain financial independence and keep their careers on track.
And so is it little wonder that 2020 was the year of unprecedented retail interest in the financial markets? At my company, which serves as a social network for investors and traders, we’ve seen about a 50% uptick in our 24-35-year-old investor community since COVID-19 started, making the millennial network, or the group that is interacting with each other and participating in discussion, now represent 41% of the entire site. Combined with Gen Z, roughly three in five of our community are now under the age of 35. While such young professionals might not necessarily have the funds that their more senior counterparts hold, what they do have is the time, easy access to trading tools and educational resources, and most importantly the will to make the markets work for them. This determination is spurred on by the ever-greater benefits of a shared network, providing mainstream forums for the discussion—and creative self-expression—of what was once a specialist subject. Now it’s clear: Everyone’s an investor, together.
The power of retail investors has never been more evident than with the GameStop saga, featuring the investor community from Reddit’s r/WallStreetBets. For the first time, individual investors in their own homes could openly organize and communicate to a level that has taken Wall Street by surprise.
For older generations, money was left in the hands of wealth managers due to the complexity of getting your hands on the information you need. The first seismic shift in favor of the everyday investor came 25 years ago with electronic trading platforms such as TD Ameritrade. The technology was developed for people to get their foot in the door, and since then, the door has only widened in favor of retail. With a click of a button, customers can connect to storied brokerages such as TradeStation, which provide options for stocks, ETFs, futures, everything for a burgeoning investor, or Gemini, which focuses on cryptocurrencies. Most of these platforms have zero-commission trading, which is light-years ahead of the commissions charged even 10 years ago.
Growing alongside these brokerages are digital hubs for financial information, commentary, education, and market banter, ranging from more casual hubs, such as r/WallStreetBets, to more analytical platforms that provide charting and data analysis. Resources are the most accessible and cheapest they have ever been in history, and people now have the time (and financial means) to dive deep into learning markets.
The rise of “online everything”
Prolonged lockdowns and stay-at-home orders have shifted professionals’ horizons, expediting the need to develop new social and professional connections, as well as maintain existing ones within a virtual environment. With limited options for physical interaction, being social on the web has become synonymous for many with being productive; this is a competitive advantage for members of the under-35 group who know how to directly connect and collaborate with peers.
When learning how to take their money further, many are focusing on platforms that foster enjoyable conversations, which are also educational by nature. Across verticals, companies from Etsy to Barstool Sports are tapping into this need for human connectivity by adding social features, while established social sites such as LinkedIn and AngelList continue to increase the number of social tools at customers’ disposal.
Going a step further, real-time interaction has proven to increase engagement across communities and is key to creating vibrant networks in today’s virtual world. At TradingView, our livestream feature Streams (which is a bit like Twitch, for finance) allows people to ask questions and chat, in real time, with hundreds of professionals in the field.
Kickstarting these types of interactions are invaluable to young professionals, especially those who would be otherwise cut off from these types of expert resources. After all, as we know from school, the more enjoyable you make a topic to learn, the more likely people are to become proficient in it.
From a financial knowledge standpoint, engaging with others who have also had to pivot during these times can spotlight the unique ways in which people have successfully gained wealth beyond their regular 9-to-5. Some have added active investing as an additional source of income, while others have educated themselves on simple dollar-cost averaging and how to maintain their savings with Roth IRA and similar tax-exempt strategies.
A long-term remote world
As the world grapples with the ongoing effects of the global pandemic, it’s clear that remote work is here to stay. Increasing millennials’ access to digital resources and their ability to communicate effectively over virtual platforms, especially to those located in suburban areas, has been an essential feature in companies’ success and will be going forward, as many move away from metropolitan centers such as New York City and Chicago. COVID-19 leveled the playing field, offering young professionals geographic mobility like never before. People no longer need to move into cities with a high cost of living in order to meet like-minded people, and those who moved to large cities to be a part of those professional hubs are now more free to live wherever they choose, without having to sacrifice their networks.
More than ever, millennials should consider exploring the resources available to them in order to gain financial independence in the face of an uncertain job market and climbing economic instability. Long term, it’s about creating a network of other individuals with common interests that can be relied on for advice and professional development. Networking may look different from the traditional coffee chat, but there are constantly new ways to connect with people virtually, and the key is to find the platform that best suits your interests and where you want to grow. With investing specifically, one of the hardest parts to weather is when someone takes a big loss and has to close out the position or portfolio. Before these communities that blend social and professional interests existed, there was nowhere to turn for help or education, and often investors would be too afraid to get back into the market if they suffered a big hit. But those who survived the March drawdowns did it together, and that is how young professionals are coming together to survive these uncertain times.
As our world begins to open up again, I’m confident millennials will continue to find new ways to work, challenge how we think about reeducation, and ultimately maintain their financial futures. If we can play some role in that story, then we’ve done our job.
Pierce Crosby is the general manager of TradingView, a social charting platform with 15 million global users that provides in-depth analytics, charts, and discussions with fellow investors, helping them make informed investing decisions.