Frances Cook, Cooking the Books: Rise and rise of retail investing

OPINION:

I’ve never had so many friends interested in my day job.

After years where I got, at most, casual inquiries about the best KiwiSaver fund, my phone now regularly lights up with questions from friends about the best stock to invest into.

Air New Zealand? Tesla? Is GameStop really going to go to the moon?

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These are people who weren’t investing before. But since that first lockdown there’s been a spike in retail investors signing up to new digital investing platforms.

It’s a trend that’s showing up not only in New Zealand, but around the world. And that increase is reflected in my inbox.

To be clear, I think this is 90 per cent a good thing.

Investing into shares or stocks has been a proven wealth-builder for decades, and yet, it was hard to access.

Often you had to go through a broker who charged big fees for each transaction, or had a minimum investment amount of several thousand dollars. For some it was millions.

Now you can start with as little as $5, putting your money into managed funds, ETFs, or getting a fraction of expensive shares like Apple.

Many of the new online platforms seem to be taking their newfound popularity seriously, launching investor education evenings, or webinars.

That’s a good thing, because therein lies the last 10 per cent of this trend that worries me.

Any boom in interest comes with an element of hype, which can easily burn new players.

Snake oil salesmen and gurus are attracted to the chatter, and soon start dishing out tips, tricks, outdated information, or trying to lure in new investors with promises of investing strategies that “can’t lose”.

Anyone selling you something with such confidence should be treated with caution. The true experts I’ve met speak with enthusiasm, but always with an eye to the dangers, too.

Or there’s the word-of-mouth driven hype, which pushes up glamour stocks, or those deemed “rubbish” by the big investing houses.

The shares for companies that look glossy, but don’t make a profit yet. Or the shares plummeting like a stone, the company barely solvent, but with investors lining up to buy “while it’s cheap”.

The Reddit and Twitter chatter may be fun to watch, and I’ve certainly pulled out the popcorn during the recent rise in these meme stocks.

But for those who are actually looking to build wealth, and create financial freedom? Get rich quick almost always turns out to be a way to get poor even faster.

I’m still a fan of the changes we’re seeing in the sharemarket.

It’s a generational revolution, with younger people taking charge of their money. It’s a class revolution, with new options for wealth-building available to people who don’t have thousands already.

New investors are empowered like never before, and have options like never before.

But they would do well to make sure they’re reading up on how markets work, to make sure this really is an opportunity and not just a new way to gamble and lose.

Get all the tips whenyou listen to the latest Cooking the Books podcast here:

• If you have a money question you’d like answered in the future, come and talk to me about it. I’m on Facebook here, Instagram here and Twitter here.

• Hear more on the Cooking the Books podcast. You can find new episodes in the Herald, or subscribe on iHeartRadio, Apple podcasts app,or Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

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