Will Wall Street Be Able to Earn the Trust of Younger Investors?

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Uber and Netflix have fundamentally shifted consumer behavior and disrupted incumbent firms. In our research, we’re beginning to see signs that Wall Street is being threatened by similar forces.

Uber and Netflix’s success were generated through two critical strategies. First, they created a combination of breakthrough product innovation and breakthrough business model innovation—the definition of category creation. Second, Uber and Netflix appealed to a younger superconsumer before they entered the category, which caught the market leaders flat-footed.

In financial services, there are signs that traditional products like mutual funds are beginning to wane. Higher-fee, actively managed funds lost $500 billion in assets since 2015, with much of it flowing to much lower cost passive funds (e.g. index funds). But total net inflows of money into all mutual funds and exchange traded funds is at its lowest levels since 2014.

Meanwhile, new investment exchanges and IRA accounts are emerging that provide alternative investments versus traditional stocks, bonds and mutual funds, that have similar liquidity but greater transparency, and were previously only available to the ultra-wealthy.

One next-generation example already available today is YieldStreet, which offers a wide variety of debt investments—including real estate, marine finance, and litigation finance–that have generated an internal rate of return in excess of 12.5% on half a billion dollars invested on the platform to date. Similarly, access to the world of startup investing was limited to “exclusive clubs” like venture capital funds and high net worth angel networks. Now, platforms like AngelList, WeFunder, and Republic enable ordinary retail investors to participate in this stage of a company’s growth. According to a survey we conducted with Research Now/SSI on investing and retirement of 2,000 nationally representative households, 15% of total households are extremely interested in this. Through these platforms, Main Street investors can screen startups by industry, review business plans, and ask questions of founders directly.

Perhaps the biggest sign of future disruption to traditional Wall Street incumbents is how young these alternative investment superconsumers are. Our data shows that the consumer that is ‘extremely interested’ in alternative investments is very young and high income, with an average age of 35 and average annual income over $130,000. In contrast, the consumers least interested in alternative investments is in the mid-fifties with average income. It’s clear more money could go to investments: according to a survey of 3,000 Americans aged 18-44, one in three spent more money on coffee than they invested in a year. This is not surprising, since 67% find investing scary and confusing and 52% believe the ‘investment market is rigged against people like me.’

Remember that many younger investors grew up in the 2008 recession and perhaps never trusted the stock market. Growing more investors (especially younger ones) by getting more of them off the sidelines is key; the question is how to do so?

Disruptors show the way by bringing investments that are easier to understand and more purpose- and passion-driven, both of which are highly appealing to millennial investors. You can now invest in ‘fix and flip’ real estate investments via companies like Groundfloor, Lending Home, and PeerStreet. They allow investors to lend money to ‘fix and flippers’ who buy a home, renovate it and sell it at a higher price. WeFunder, a startup exchange, focuses on finding high-purpose-driven and high-passion investments, has found that many of its investors are themselves superconsumers of the companies they were investing in. They found their superconsumers were excited to invest, as they clearly had a stake in ensuring the company’s long-term viability, much like Kickstarter does with product innovation but with the added benefit of investment growth potential.

How much disruption could Wall Street be facing? It depends on how prepared and proactive they are. The alternative investment superconsumer represents about 20 to 25 million households who have approximately $25 trillion dollars in investable assets and nearly $8 trillion in retirement assets. These consumers are willing to shift 20 to 25% of their retirement assets—nearly $2 trillion dollars—into an IRA that specializes in investing into alternative assets. Eric Satz, CEO of AltoIRA says, “Retirement dollars are the jet fuel for democratizing alternative investments.”

The youth of these superconsumers is perhaps the most critical insight. Incumbent Wall Street firms never had a relationship with these younger superconsumers, so it was much harder for them to anticipate the disruption.

Consumers who don’t enter the category at the normal point are particularly scary for traditional firms. By not entering at the expected age, they may never enter the category and show subsequent generations a different way.

ESPN was conducting business as usual until it peaked at 100 million subscribers in 2011; it’s declined to 87 million subscribers today, largely due to cord cutters who never had cable. New York City taxi struggles have been even more dramatic – taxi cab medallions there trade today at approximately $200,000 per medallion, down from as much as $1.3 million just five years ago, because young people adopted Uber instead of taxis, hurting taxi revenues.

The average age of a traditional wealth management firm’s customer is in the mid 50’s. Much like the threat that millennial cord cutters pose to cable TV companies, traditional financial institutions are not likely to see this coming and will face similar disruption challenges unless they take action now.





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