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The Rise of the Millennial Investor

A new generation of high-net-worth individuals is blazing a trail in the investment world. But who exactly are millennial investors and how are they different from those who came before? 

By Gayatri Bhaumik
September 26, 2022

There is a new force to be reckoned with in today’s global economy: millennials, generally considered the generation born between 1980 and 1995. This is especially true in Asia, where they make up some 25 percent of the population. Having grown up with modern technology, this generation is incredibly tech-savvy, socially and environmentally conscious, and more importantly, is expected to witness the biggest generational wealth transfer in history, inheriting nearly US$24 trillion by 2030. Taken together, these facts are creating a new breed of shrewd investors that are turning the financial world on its head.  

Millennials don’t just have more economic power than the investors that preceded them; they’re also learning about finance and investing earlier. In fact, independent research by investment consultant Morningstar shows that millennials begin learning about investing at around 20 years old, while Gen Xers report starting at 25 years and Baby Boomers at 32. Further, 31 percent of millennials in the US claim to have started investing before the age of 21, compared to just 14 percent of the Gen Xers and 9 percent of Boomers respectively. And, because they’re more financially literate and ready to take risks – they have time to recoup any losses, after all – they’re investing in vastly different ways than those that came before.  

“We are at a point where investing has become very easy,” says Ritesh Nandwani, Venture Partner at Hong Kong-based VU Venture Partners. “New asset classes are being born, and knowledge about finance and investing is becoming democratised and is free to access. The convergence of all these situations has given birth to a generation that aspires to financial freedom and, with their access to technology, it’s possible to achieve.” 

Photo: Kristal.ai

Education is one of the biggest reasons why millennials are becoming the fastest growing generation of investors. A recent study showed that 69 percent of American millennials prefer to do their own research, while 49 percent actively read the financial press. Because of their digital fluency, millennials are used to managing their lives – including their financial lives – through technology and social media. This includes learning about and executing investments. A report by The Motley Fool found that 61 percent of American Gen Z and millennial investors view Reddit as a trusted source of investing information, while Axios reports that 60 percent of millennials have taken investment information after viewing something on social media.  

“Millennials are very financially aware and keen to seek financial independence early in their lives,” notes Asheesh Chanda of Kristal.ai, a digital investment platform headquartered in Singapore and offering affluent and high-net-worth individuals access to a wide range of investment products. “They prefer [to use] blogs, YouTube videos, and webinars to educate themselves about investing and are more likely to be influenced by peers, friends, colleagues, and KOLs. Social media is among the most popular sources of investment information and new age ‘celebrity’ investment managers have made social media the new hubs of financial conversation and decision-making.” 

Photo: Asheesh Chanda

As influencers have changed the travel and lifestyle industries, so too have social media stars changed the world of investment. YouTubers like Graham Stephen, Andrei Jikh, and Jeremy Lefebvre have garnered massive online followings, especially over the last two years when millennials around the world were spending a lot of free time at home. These investment influencers aren’t just teaching the younger generation how to invest, they’re actively sharing tips and investment strategies and even causing market fluctuations. 

“There’s so much information out there from financial influencers on Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, and other platforms, and they’re engaging and funny so they’re appealing to the [millennial] demographic,” adds Tanya Rolfe, co-founder of Sophia, a Singapore-based financial education platform that aims to tackle the gender wealth and investing gap. “When you think about financial education, it’s a really dry topic. But these influencers are really breaking [the information] down into simple, bite-sized, engaging content. It’s not a 45-minute course full of financial jargon, it’s a 20-something in a bathroom talking about NFTs and cracking jokes, so it’s a very different way to learn.” 

Millennials are also investing differently from Gen Xers and Boomers. As a generation, they are prioritising different values – and this is changing the way they build their investment portfolios. For example, the FIRE (financial independence, retire early) movement is going from strength to strength among millennials, as are alternative investments like art and spirits. “Millennials are open to new investment ideas, and show bias towards growth asset classes like stocks, pre-IPO deals, and crypto,” notes Chanda. “They tend to be highly engaged clients who like to be in control of their portfolio and active in every investment decision.” 

Photo: Tanya Rolfe

In Asia, cask trading is among the increasingly attractive options for young investors. “Millennials are looking for risk diversification and a stable increment of asset, and also value flexibility and having control over their investments,” says Simon Aron of Cask Trade, the UK’s leading cask trading company “They’re more eager to explore new investment opportunities, and the idea of being able to earn profits from a lifestyle luxury good is appealing, which is why more millennials are looking at investment-grade casks to buy, age, and resell. Uniqueness is also a big draw – the exclusivity of owning a cask of whisky under their name is a great adrenaline rush.” 

Another big draw for this socially-conscious generation of investors? Sustainable investments. A 2017 Morgan Stanley survey found that 86 percent of millennials are interested in investing in companies or funds that aim to generate financial returns alongside positive social or environmental impact. In Asia especially, high-net-worth millennials are twice as likely to invest with sustainability or social impact in mind.  

The actual process of investing is another way millennials are making their mark on the industry. Investment apps offer low barriers and extreme convenience, which is why they’re particularly popular among young investors. Apps like SoFi, Ally, and Wealthbase have low fees, the convenience of 24/7 trading, and even built-in education platforms.  

“Millennials want to know what they’re buying and how much they’re paying for it,” notes Chanda “They value transparency, control, and ease of use. Investment apps, with their usability and ‘always-on’ nature, have helped more people become active investors and made investing a less intimidating exercise.” 

Photo: RobinHood

RobinHood is perhaps the most well-known investment app, with a reported 22.7 million active accounts as of 31 December 2021. Although its star seems to have dimmed following several highly publicised scandals and a dip in crypto, the app still has plenty of fans. The same Motley Fool report found that 36 percent of millennial respondents had used RobinHood in the last month, though Fidelity and Acorns have proved almost as popular.  

“When you couple the accessibility of [the apps] with the information [millennials] are getting from the financial influencers, it’s really lowering the barriers to entry and giving them the confidence to take the first step into investing,” adds Rolfe. “I think the boldest step for anyone is the first, so when you can do that with an investment app, with a very small amount of money, then you’ve removed the hardest part of the process.” 

Many apps also offer educational content, making them one-stop shops for young would-be investors. Kristal.ai offers a variety of educational content in the form of product webinars, daily market commentary, monthly newsletters and videos. In April, which has been dubbed ‘Financial Literacy Month,’ Sophia launched the first product in their ‘Money Wellness Series’ educational series, a digital course called ‘Your Money Basics.’ This was quickly followed by a comprehensive series of courses designed to teach women across Singapore, Hong Kong, and Australia the basics of financial literacy.

Photo: Shutterstock

Still, challenges remain. A deeper dive into the scads of research out there hints at massive wealth and investment disparity among millennials, and that despite the influencers and access to digital education under 40 percent of American millennials claim they truly understand their investments. Nonetheless, with such unprecedented access to new technologies and investment products, a thirst for financial independence and goals that transcend returns, there’s no denying millennials have begun to change the world of investing – and are likely to keep changing it until the next generation rewrites the rules once again.

 

ASHEESH’S TIPS FOR MILLENNIAL INVESTORS:  

  1. Understand your risk profile and financial needs, and set financial goals.
  2. Diversify across asset classes and geographical markets.
  3. Don’t try to time the market. Be consistent and disciplined.
  4. Invest in what you understand, not what others say is good.
  5. Start early, even if it’s small.
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