By: Barbara Stewart
Financial independence means being able to pay one’s way without having to work or rely on others. In other words, being free.
Based on my 10 years of research, I know that financial independence is a critical theme for women. In my recent global survey, when women were asked the most important reason why they invest, the second most popular answer was “to become more financially independent,” behind the unsurprising first choice, “fund my retirement.”
Historically, women have been less likely to invest than men. But that is changing fast. Women have been catching up and are increasingly taking advantage of four fintech forums that are helping them get started. These four approaches are so new that they are not yet household terms, and so require a little bit of background and context.
1. Copy Trading
Copy trading is investing in the wake of another investor, mimicking their trades in real time. There are several copy trading platforms that feature successful traders whose approaches users can emulate. The Israel-based e-Toro is perhaps the most popular. Most influential traders on these platforms integrate social media outreach to communicate and explain their strategies. Traders normally earn a revenue share from the trading commissions generated by their followers on the platform.
Sandra Bourbon started investing in her own “Future Feminist” gender equality stock portfolio five years ago. Today, about 20,000 investors follow along and buy the same portfolio of shares as Bourbon using Shareville, Nordnet’s social investment network.
Bourbon’s followers have been very happy with Future Feminist’s performance over the past five years: +39% as of 18 March. That’s compared to Stockholm’s OMXS30 stock exchange, including dividends, of -4%.
Bourbon engages with her followers largely through Instagram. When I interviewed her recently in Sweden, she said that most of their questions these days revolve around the COVID-19 epidemic’s impact on the stock market. Her best advice?
“I stay calm and will keep investing in gender equal companies that I believe in. At the moment, Future Feminist is more or less tracking the Stockholm Stock Exchange. I have only invested in eight stocks. The best performer under the present circumstances is ICA Gruppen — they own all of the major supermarkets in Sweden.
2. Social Communities
Social communities are networks that promote communication about all aspects of investing, including portfolio tracking and performance comparison and competition. These investment communities live on social media, primarily Facebook and Instagram, and exist all over the world but are especially popular in Scandinavia. These Nordic networks encourage dialogue about all facets of investing and encourage everyone to do their own study and analysis. They also offer both in-person and online educational and themed events for members on sustainability and crowdlending, among other subjects.
Linnéa Schmidt, a cancer researcher, founded the popular Facebook community Moneypenny. She explained to me how it all began:
“I started investing in 2015 and I found it to be a very confusing exercise. I got a lot of help from some local women and this made it much easier for me. The best thing I ever did was join an online Facebook investment community for women in Sweden. Early on I became a Co-Administrator (along with two partners) and we now have 130,000 members. When I moved to Denmark in 2016 for my research work, I couldn’t find a similar type of community so I decided to start one called Moneypenny. I wanted to share what I had experienced, inspire other women, and really help them change their lives for the better.”
Schmidt and her partners now administer several Facebook communities in the Nordics. Combined, these communities number more than 200,000 members. Participants ask all sorts of questions, and all questions are welcome. Importantly, the forums are open, so anyone in the community can answer the queries.
Starting Moneypenny has changed Schmidt’s aspirations for her professional life. “My hope is to eventually make this work my full-time job,” she told me. “Cancer research is important, but so is getting women to start investing, and (unlike medical research) I can see the results of my efforts and have an impact immediately.”
Facebook communities like Moneypenny didn’t start out with money-making as their main objective, but as these networks grow, they are looking for ways to monetize their efforts to help women.
3. Mobile Investment Clubs
Mobile investment clubs encourage and invite friends, family, and colleagues to join the app, link accounts, and begin investing together. Once established, these clubs can enter into competition with one another.
While traditional in-person investment clubs have been off and on the scene for decades, I haven’t encountered any formal online investment clubs other than Vancouver-based Voleo. Voleo, whose app is currently available in the United States only, is the empress of mobile investment clubs: Almost one in two of their investors are female.
Women can solo trade on Voleo, team up with a club, or start their own. Inside the clubs, members propose and debate investment ideas and then vote on buying the security: If a certain number of members approve, then the purchase is made. The investment clubs track their performance and can compete with other investment clubs across the globe. Votes are tracked for each trade that clubs do not approve, so the app has a built-in “I told you so” feature.
Randiesa Spires is the president of Florida Stock Sisters, a Voleo investment club composed of eight African-American who meet regularly online. Spires told me that her parents first introduced her to investing, but gradually she began to think about it as a way of claiming her financial independence:
“I was motivated to form the group after I started following a Facebook community of female investors and immediately had the sense that this is where I need to be . . . I had found my community of women who look like me, and I felt comfortable. Florida Stock Sisters has become that sisterhood we all needed and the eight of us know we can count on talking money every Wednesday at 7:30 pm. Each week one of us analyzes two companies and then presents our recommendation. Being accountable to the group helps so much — we have to be fully prepared for our meetings.”
Investing is also a great way for women to cast a vote and take action on world issues. Spires explains:
“We vote through the app at the end of the meeting. All of us have the same vision — to make money so that we can leave our families with our legacy rather than a financial burden. We are working towards common goals and it is so rewarding to look at our portfolio and see how it has grown.”
I spent two decades working for both bank-owned and independent investment management companies and online investment clubs feel like great tools to meet the top three needs of today’s investment firms: financial education, client acquisition, and adding “value over robot.”
4. Subscription-Based e-Learning
Subscription-based online learning, or e-learning, is already a massive trend in universities and is only gaining more momentum as a result of the COVID-19 shift to online-only education. As Leah Belsky points out in Harvard Business Review:
“Universities are being called on to serve more diverse learners on a massive scale. They have to create credentials that catch the attention of employers that are increasingly focused on skills over traditional degrees. They have to create shorter pathways to new skills. And alongside foundational knowledge, they have to offer the flexibility for learners to upskill throughout their careers since lifelong learning is the only way forward. Technology will be the link through this change, revolutionizing what we know as higher ed.”
Another way to serve diverse learners on a massive scale, women who want to learn how to invest among them, is to combine online education with a sense of community. Female Invest is Scandinavia’s largest online investment education platform for women: It seeks to close the gender investment gap by educating women on investing and personal finance via subscription based e-learning, events, and webinars. Topics include an introduction to investing, what COVID-19 means for the markets, and how to invest in bear markets.
I spoke with co-founder Anna-Sophie Hartvigsen who was recently listed as among Forbes‘s 30 under 30. Her personal evolution is illuminating:
“I started working when I was 13 and by the time I was 19 I had quite a lot of savings. I realized that keeping my money in the bank was a losing proposition because of inflation so I started to look around for information about how to invest in the stock market. I became super interested, I learned a lot and eventually I was trading on a daily basis and I started to invest on behalf of my parents. Along the way I also attended some events but in these environments I was almost always the only young girl and a lonely female investor. I wanted to find an investment community but none existed at the time. As luck would have it one day I met another young woman who was a certified stockbroker and together we decided to start a forum at ages 21 and 22!
“In February of 2017 we started Female Invest with just a handful of women in our community. After launch a lot of media covered our story and within the first one or two months some of the big banks reached out to collaborate. Our educational events are in partnership with the banks — there is no product promotion whatsoever — we are independent. We worked 20–30 hours a week outside of our day jobs for two years until the demand became overwhelming: we would have 15,000 people attending our events. For the last year we have gone all-in as full time entrepreneurs and now we are a for-profit company. During that time, we have launched a digital learning platform, created a subscription business, reached thousands of women across borders and attracted 25,000 attendees to our events.
“As our business grows, so does the demand for our services because more and more women hear about us. The demand for this type of investor education is global. In November of 2020 we launched our subscription model offering access to video courses and investment tips for a monthly fee of DKK 59 or about US$8.”
In these times of self-isolation and physical distancing, online activities are fundamental to our day-to-day productivity and, perhaps even more importantly, to our sense of self. If our friends and family, or our clients’ friends and family — especially their daughters! — haven’t yet started investing, what can we do to help them?
As advisers we need to encourage them to embrace online investing platforms, clubs, and communities. The recent market declines may have created an entry opportunity just like that of the 2008–2009 financial crisis. Financial knowledge builds confidence and the freedom to pursue the careers and lives that we want.
In Hartvigsen’s words: “We work to unite all the women who want to be the boss of their own money and begin their investing journeys.”