Gen Z Investors: A Look at the Attitudes and Behaviors of the Youngest Investors
Gen Z is now in the market and they're beginning to invest younger than any generation before them. A new study by the FINRA Foundation and CFA Institute has taken a deep dive into the attitudes and behaviors of this latest generation of investors, the oldest of which were just 25 at the time of the study.
On this episode, Andres Vinelli, Chief Economist at CFA Institute, and Gerri Walsh, President of the FINRA Foundation and Senior Vice President of Investor Education at FINRA, join us to talk about the role of crypto as an onramp, how Gen Z is using, but not necessarily trusting, social media and much more.
Resources mentioned in this episode:
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00:00 - 00:28
Kaitlyn Kiernan: Gen Z is now in the market and they're beginning to invest younger than any generation before them. On this episode, we're taking a deep dive into a new study by the FINRA Foundation and the CFA Institute that looks at the attitudes and behaviors of this latest generation of investors, the oldest of which were just 25 at the time of the study. We'll learn about the role of crypto as an onramp, how Gen Z is using, but not necessarily trusting, social media and much more.
00:28 – 00:37
00:37 - 01:05
Kaitlyn Kiernan: Welcome to FINRA Unscripted, I'm your host, Kaitlyn Kiernan. I'm pleased to have two guests joining us today to discuss a new study from the CFA Institute and the FINRA Foundation regarding Generation Z investors. That's right, Gen Z is already investing. Joining us today are Andres Vinelli, Chief Economist at the CFA Institute, and Gerri Walsh, President of the FINRA Foundation and Senior Vice President of Investor Education at FINRA. Andres and Gerri, welcome to the show.
01:05 - 01:06
Gerri Walsh: Thanks for having us.
01:07 - 01:08
Andres Vinelli: It's a pleasure to be here. Thank you.
01:09 - 01:17
Kaitlyn Kiernan: So, just to kick us off, can you each introduce yourselves and tell us what you do at your respective organizations? Andres, as the newcomer, maybe we can start with you?
01:18 - 02:09
Andres Vinelli: I'm Andres Vinelli. I'm Chief Economist at CFA Institute, which is the member organization for investment professionals around the world. So, it's a global organization, almost 200,000 charter financial analysts. That's where the CFA comes from. And it's a pleasure to be here collaborating with the FINRA Foundation, which does so much good work, trying to make investing accessible. What I do at CFA Institute is direct the research efforts that we do in order to fulfill our mission, which is to make sure that finance is a force for good in society. That involves making sure that investors have the information that they need. And we also talk a lot with governments about how to make financial markets a little better.
02:09 - 02:17
Kaitlyn Kiernan: And Gerri, you wear two hats, but today you're representing more the FINRA Foundation. So, maybe you can talk a little bit about your dual role.
02:17 - 03:47
Gerri Walsh: Absolutely. I head up Investor Education at FINRA, and in that capacity, the Investor Ed team curates, updates, creates the content that is on finra.org. So, responding to developments in the securities markets, trends that investors, retail investors in particular, are evidencing. We try to provide content that's neutral, unbiased, just gives you what you need to know in order to make an informed decision. And we have a role with respect to rulemaking policy as well. We channel the voice of retail investors through the Investor Issues Committee and Andres is one of our members of that committee. So, I get to collaborate with him multiple times. And the Foundation is a separate organization within FINRA. It's a wholly owned sub of FINRA. Its whole mission is to empower Americans with the knowledge, skills and tools that they need for financial success throughout their lives. And we do a lot of that in partnership with organizations that mirror our values and mirror our goals. And our primary ways of doing that are through research like this project and also outreach efforts. So, I'd like to say I have the truly 100% fun job at FINRA because we're here to foster investor protection by understanding and advocating for Main Street investors.
03:48 - 04:08
Kaitlyn Kiernan: Great. Well, as they say, knowledge is power. So, I'm sure that research is very important in that role. So, we're here today to discuss a new study that the FINRA Foundation and CFA Institute collaborated on, looking at Gen Z investors. Just to start, can you give us a little background on this study and what prompted it?
04:08 - 05:09
Gerri Walsh: Well, five years ago we, the FINRA Foundation, collaborated with CFA Institute to understand Millennials, and we wanted to see what was happening and we took a look at both investors and people that might be in or interested in the securities industry. So, we took a wide view. And five years later we thought, "Millennials are invested. Awesome. But look at Gen Z, these 18- to 25-year-olds are in the markets already in a way that Millennials, Gen X, Boomers were not in the market at such young ages." So, we thought, "Hey, let's collaborate again and better understand this generation because it appears to be investing in far greater numbers and the availability of investment platforms has increased so much. So, what do we as regulators need to know about this new generation of investors?"
05:10 - 05:32
Kaitlyn Kiernan: Millennials are now old news so that's good to hear I guess, as the Millennial on the podcast, that we're no longer in the hot seat. So, the study found that actually more than half of Gen Zers are already investing. That seems like a really big deal given how young they are, as Gerri just mentioned, how do we define Gen Z generally and for the purpose of the study?
05:33 - 06:16
Gerri Walsh: So, Gen Z is much bigger than the cohort that we looked at for investing purposes. We looked at people who at the end of the year 2022, which is when we fielded this survey, were 18 to 25 years old. So, they were legally able to own their own investment account. But Gen Zers are those who are born between 1997 and 2012. So, it is a much bigger generation. So, in a lot of ways we're looking at the tip of the spear. We're not really seeing all of Gen Z, we're just seeing the Gen Z's that were able to invest in their own accounts as of the end of 2022.
06:17 - 06:24
Kaitlyn Kiernan: So, we still have a decent number of them who are minors. So, this is going to be a group we continue to look at in the years ahead.
06:24 - 06:26
Gerri Walsh: Exactly. And this gives us a baseline.
06:26 - 06:32
Kaitlyn Kiernan: And for these young investors, what are they investing in? What counts as investing for this study?
06:33 - 07:23
Andres Vinelli: Well, it's a surprising range of products. There's the old classics: mutual funds, individual stocks, ETFs. I suspect a Gen Zer might look at me and say, "Hey, Boomer, you're forgetting where the real action is." By the way, I'm not a Boomer, I'm a Gen Xer. But you know what? Crypto runs first here and NFTs are in the mix. So, what we see is a surprising variety of instruments that folks are investing on with crypto going really ahead. For many people in this generation, their first love seems to be crypto, and that's very interesting and quite new. Of course, we also see other generations getting into the mix, but Gen Z is leading the charge here.
07:23 - 07:59
Gerri Walsh: But it is interesting to see that Millennials and Gen X as well are also investing in crypto because it wasn't a zero-sum game, it was what are you invested in? And, I mean, individual stocks seem to be the thing that all generations are invested in. But the Gen Xers are much more likely. Close to half of them are in mutual funds, compared to only a third of Gen Z. But then it flips with crypto. 55% of Gen Z are in crypto, whereas just over a third of Gen Xers.
08:00 - 08:06
Kaitlyn Kiernan: That is interesting. So, this cohort is still very young, but when did they start investing?
08:06 - 08:18
Gerri Walsh: That's the wild thing, Kaitlyn. At least in the U.S., because this was an international study, in the U.S., about 25% of them started investing before they were 18.
08:19 - 08:26
Kaitlyn Kiernan: Some of the people we didn't capture in the study because they're not legal adults yet. They might already be investing, too. So, that's really interesting.
08:26 - 09:09
Andres Vinelli: I think that the trends that we see for Gen Z will be more acute when we see what the minors at that time were doing. I think that the trends will be even more robust for folks that are even younger just because it truncated at 18. But it's a remarkable change and it's very interesting. It opens up a lot of interesting possibilities in terms of the world of investing, being opened up to new audiences, perhaps a more diverse set of investors that have the opportunity to basically use capital markets in their favor to plan their lives with just more resources and more tools to them.
09:10 - 09:23
Kaitlyn Kiernan: Yeah, greater participation in the markets is a good thing for sure. And do we have any thoughts on what's driving this participation in the markets? What's making these young investors enter the marketplace?
09:23 - 09:55
Gerri Walsh: One of the biggest factors is the ability to start investing with small amounts of money. Over two thirds of the Gen Zers that we surveyed in the U.S. said that that was the number one driver and following that was curiosity, just their desire to learn about investing and to own investments. But having money to invest was also a factor and conversely a barrier for the people who are not investing, and parents and family who encourage you to invest. And that may explain some of those under 18 investors.
09:56 - 10:05
Kaitlyn Kiernan: Kudos to the parents getting kids interested young. How does this compare to older generations? What is driving their investment decisions and how does that compare?
10:06 - 10:42
Gerri Walsh: Compared to other generations, Gen Z was more likely to say that fear of missing out was a factor or influence coming from something they see on social media. So, we do see a generational difference in terms of some of the drivers for the investing behavior. And FOMO was a factor for some of the people even opening accounts. But certainly, when it comes to things like individual stocks and meme stocks, Gen Zers are more likely to say that FOMO, that fear of missing out, drives their decision to jump into an investment.
10:43 - 10:48
Kaitlyn Kiernan: That's interesting. Where are these investors learning about financial topics?
10:49 - 11:25
Gerri Walsh: In the U.S., the biggest source of information for these investors is social media. That's where they're getting their information and also through internet searches. But the third and the most trusted form of information is coming from parents and family. Yes, they are using social media and seeing what's out there. But interestingly, even though a Gen Z investor might rely on as many as four different social media points of information when they're making a decision, they don't necessarily trust every single thing they see. They're very discerning.
11:25 - 12:16
Andres Vinelli: That's very interesting because we hear so much about financial influencers and the role they have in educating people, sometimes steering them to particular strategies or products. And it's a little bit like the Wild, Wild West out there. We are actually, CFA Institute, conducting a study right now on financial influencers. So, more to come on that. But what we see in this study is that they are indeed discerning. These folks, they know that things are moving fast. There are certain fears of missing out. We all have it. But they seem to have an acute knowledge about the dynamics out there. It's reassuring that they are getting their information not only from social media, but parent counseling and also financial professionals and the more traditional ways of getting financial literacy.
12:16 - 13:01
Gerri Walsh: And, you know, Kaitlyn, Millennials and Gen Xers were more likely to say that they get their information, that they learn about investing, from Internet searches or from financial professionals, financial companies themselves. But it really is interesting when you think about what sources people trust and what is actually helpful to them. Parents and family were their top trusted source. Financial professionals were their second trusted source. So, financial professionals are in the mix for Gen Z. But interestingly, when they're searching for information, when they want ideas on where to invest, social media, Internet searches are where they go.
13:02 - 13:08
Kaitlyn Kiernan: When you say social media, what do you mean by that? Is there a breakdown of the platforms these investors are using?
13:08 - 13:17
Andres Vinelli: There is, and I was frankly surprised by it. Guess what the number one source was for investing? Hint, it wasn't TikTok. That's what I thought.
13:18 - 13:19
Gerri Walsh: But it was video!
13:19 - 13:25
Kaitlyn Kiernan: Okay. Then I'd have to guess YouTube. I was going to say it's probably not Facebook. I don't think this generation is on Facebook.
13:25 - 13:51
Andres Vinelli: No, that's for other generations. YouTube, indeed. You were right. So, YouTube, number one ranked 60%, and then Internet searches and then Instagram, which makes sense generationally. And then you have other sources, TikTok, Twitter, Reddit. Yes, Facebook. But it's mostly YouTube, which is longer form research and analysis, usually.
13:51 - 14:26
Gerri Walsh: And it was interesting to see that these were consistent findings with the National Financial Capability Study Investor Survey component, which was released in December of 2022 but fielded in 2021. And while it didn't break down Gen Z for investors that were under the age of 35, so still these youthful investors, more than half of them were using YouTube. So, very consistent with what we saw with Gen Z and a higher percentage were using Reddit than we saw in this particular survey.
14:27 - 14:35
Kaitlyn Kiernan: That is very interesting. At least YouTube is more longer form content. So, hopefully they're learning a little bit more than a 90-second soundbite elsewhere.
14:36 - 14:42
Gerri Walsh: It is so challenging to get investor education down to 45 seconds or 90 seconds.
14:42 - 14:55
Kaitlyn Kiernan: Social media seems to have a complicated role here. They're using it, they don't necessarily trust it. From your perspective, is social media a net positive or a net negative with the youngest generation and investing?
14:56 - 16:05
Andres Vinelli: I would say that it's a net positive. This is a young generation. They have hopefully a long life to live and to invest and to prosper. So, even if you make some mistakes early on, that's A-okay because you have time to hopefully earn some money and learn from mistakes or from the successes you have had. This is an incredible opportunity that other generations didn't have. You just needed a lot of money to get started. Now, the industry is offering fractions of shares for a handful of dollars and really start early. And social media can give you a little bit of the background that you need, of course, to Wild West, and think that we as a society need to come to terms with that. Perhaps people need to explain a little bit better if they have a financial interest in what they are talking about. We need to establish some of the rules for that, but I think that at the end of the day, this is an incredible opportunity to get knowledgeable, to make some mistakes, win some, lose some, and later on everyone will be better off for it. So, what do you think, Gerri?
16:05 - 17:38
Gerri Walsh: Well, I share your view that social media provides an opportunity. It obviously has challenges. Like any information channel, there can be fraud conveyed through that channel. An investing seminar that one attends can be a legitimate effort to educate or it can be a sales pitch for a Ponzi scheme. It really runs a gamut. But one of the things that we did with this study was dig a little bit deeper into how Gen Zs decide who to trust. And so, regardless of the channel, whether it's parents, whether it's financial professionals, whether it's marketing firms or social media channels, whatever it is, they value having things explained clearly to them and they value having information that is relevant to them.
They also want to see how things perform. They appreciate when people share financial performance, and regulators, of course, can't do that necessarily. But key to the equation is that this isn't a sales pitch, whatever the educational opportunity is. That's where this generation, this digital native generation, is savvy about screening and filtering out some of what they see on social media, especially when it's not particularly relevant to them. It feels like a sales pitch. It feels sketchy. They might still listen, but they might not act on that. They trust the content that actually breaks things down without a big sales pitch.
17:39 - 17:55
Kaitlyn Kiernan: Crypto, Andres mentioned, is a big thing with this study. It's a big driver for this generation. How does that reflect in the risk profile of this newest generation? Are they risk takers? And how does that compare to the older generations?
17:55 - 19:38
Andres Vinelli: We have numbers that indicate that this is a generation that is not afraid of taking risks. There's a little bit of a go-getter mentality. And one of the questions about this type of service is whether, is it a phase? Because we are young, and we tend to think young in so many ways in life. And as you settle in life later, you might change. Or is it a generational imprint that stays with you? But what we find is that there's a greater propensity to take financial risks. And as a matter of fact, we also see a relationship between the propensity to, let's say, take big financial risks and the propensity to gamble. So, it's a little bit of the yin and the yang there, in the sense that one could see this as, this is very worrisome, seeing the use of financial instruments just to gamble, that's not great.
On the other hand, what I would say is when you're young, that is the time to basically take some risks because you have the rest of your life to make it up. Usually as people get older, you become more and more conservative in terms of how you invest. And it's the right time in life to take a few risks. The other thing that we see in this survey is that men tend to be investors more than women do. And this is a trend that is not new. As a matter of fact, it might be even a little better in this generation than before, in terms of men being sometimes overconfident, overconfident. What that means is that they think they know better what's going on and they take more risks accordingly.
19:38 - 20:39
Gerri Walsh: And there's no question that Gen Z are risk takers, far more than other generations. And it's interesting. They really believe that they know more. Half of them believe that they know more than their parents about investing. And that FOMO element that we talked about definitely creeps in when it comes into risk taking. But this generation also feels like they've got some unique challenges. So, Andres mentioned the youth is on their side. That's absolutely a factor at play. But I think that this sense that, you know, they do have a different economic environment that they are inheriting causes them to engage differently with financial markets. And, you know, we asked about confidence in achieving financial goals across the generations. Gen Z was the most confident that they would be able to achieve their financial goals in the long term, taking that long term view. So, they're taking risk in order to magnify that ability to achieve their goals.
20:40 - 21:21
Kaitlyn Kiernan: It'll be really interesting to continue to follow this generation to see what is, by nature of being young, it sounds very familiar to me to think you know more than your parents. I think many teenagers throughout the decades have felt that way. But that confidence thing, that sounds very different from Millennials, who, many graduated in the middle of a financial crisis and did not have that confidence. So, it'll be interesting over time to see how this information evolves as this demographic ages. Andres mentioned the breakdown of more male versus female investors, but beyond that, who are these Gen Z investors demographically?
21:22 - 22:25
Andres Vinelli: If we compare the Gen Zs that invest with those that don't invest, there's some interesting facets. We talked about gender, but what we see is if you are a college grad, you're a lot more likely to be an investor. The 42% of people who are investors finished college, whereas the ones that didn't, they are not investing, only 24% of them did. Of course, investors come from more affluent households. That makes a lot of sense. I mean, you need some money to invest even though you can invest with a lot less these days. A couple of encouraging news is that demographics defined by race, for instance, are very similar for those who invest and who don't invest. And this is, I think, quite an achievement by this generation in that we have always had an issue of inclusion in this industry with minorities being less invested in the market, which of course, makes it difficult to create wealth and generational wealth. So, this is an encouraging finding in this study.
22:25 - 22:57
Gerri Walsh: And even though the gender gap is vexing, we don't see as many women investing, the needle is slowly moving in the direction of women becoming investors. When we looked at, in previous studies, Boomers versus Millennial women, we saw that that gender gap was closing in terms of both being investors and understanding investment concepts. And so, I think we're continuing that trend, but it's a slow shift.
22:57 - 23:11
Andres Vinelli: May I ask a question here? Gerri, I'm bold enough to ask you, how do you feel about this crypto-first feature in this study? Is there something that makes you smile, makes you worried? Do you have any thoughts on that? I'm curious.
23:11 - 24:40
Gerri Walsh: I find it an intriguing question and intriguing findings. What we're seeing, and I can't as a regulator say this is good or this is bad, but what we're seeing is that the on ramp to investing has shifted. Five years ago, when we did our study of Millennials, the parental element threads through all the generations. But the workplace was a key factor. Exposure to a company, employer-sponsored retirement plan, 401k or 403b, whatever vehicle it was, that was one of the key on ramps for people investing. But now the interest in crypto seems to be driving a lot of people to become investors.
And we separately did some research into newer investors, people that opened accounts in 2020 and then in 2021 and 2022 and we did some longitudinal analysis, but we also looked at people that considered themselves investors who really held only crypto assets. And it is stoking their interest in investing in our capital markets more broadly. So, there's an interesting and complex dynamic going on here, is that the on ramp to investing isn't the traditional company 401k anymore. That still is a factor, don't get me wrong, but crypto increasingly is sparking interest in financial markets.
24:41 - 25:01
Kaitlyn Kiernan: And it's driving a change at regulators. FINRA has been doing a lot more work in the crypto space. So, Andres, I will tease for you, in the late summer, early fall, we're going to be having a number of podcasts about what FINRA as a regulator is doing and thinking in the crypto space, so you might find interest in those episodes later in the year.
25:02 - 25:06
Andres Vinelli: Wow. Okay, so cliffhanger there. Look forward to it.
25:06 - 25:30
Kaitlyn Kiernan: Gotta keep people coming back for more. So, Andres, you mentioned earlier that one of the unique aspects of this study is that it does not just look at Gen Z investors in the U.S., but investors in the UK, Canada and China as well. So, how are these Gen Z investors in these other jurisdictions similar to or different from their counterparts in the U.S.?
25:31 - 27:29
Andres Vinelli: What's striking to me is the similarities. This generation is different, and they have a unique imprint. It's also molded by the local context. Take for instance, China. In China, what we saw is that they start generally a little bit later in life, investing, and they concentrate more on traditional products, not on cryptocurrency. Of course, cryptocurrency transactions are now restricted in China, so that might explain a lot of that. There's less reliance on parents for information. That would be something very, very interesting to follow up.
Even though parents are investing, a lot of the driver that we see in China is the FOMO, the fear of missing out. It's there, especially present in China. Now, if we go to the UK over there, what we see is that the parents of this generation, they invest less than the parents in other places. But what really helped them in this particular place in the UK is the ability to start with just a little money, which is thanks to all the investing apps and the fractionalization of shares, which is something fairly new in the marketplace.
Canada is ahead. They are cooking with gas. That generation is very curiosity and learning driven. And you know what? That's exactly the right mindset there. Because when you invest, be it a stock or perhaps even a crypto asset, it's more traditional than it looks. Many of these crypto assets are old things that are wrapped in new technologies and perhaps new concepts. Stablecoin in many ways can be a lot like a good old-fashioned money market mutual fund. And a token, we have financial instruments that look like that. We call them securitized, so it's a good gateway. But in Canada, they are really into investing, curiosity and learning. So, kudos Canada.
27:29 - 27:49
Kaitlyn Kiernan: That's really interesting. And we'll have to figure out what Canada is doing that can be replicated, perhaps. So, just to wrap up, I want to talk about the barriers and the non-investors in the study. What did the study find here in terms of some of the most significant barriers and what can we do to get these people in the markets?
27:49 - 29:07
Gerri Walsh: Well, the barriers are not all that shocking and they're not that different for other generations. They boil down to income and debt issues, but also lack of education. We let people cite multiple reasons for not investing, and about two-thirds of the non-investors said that they simply don't have enough savings. And almost an equal amount said that they don't have enough income or they're living from paycheck to paycheck. So, they just don't have the extra cash on hand to be able to invest it. But more than half, 56%, said that they don't have enough knowledge about investing. So, that's an opportunity for regulators, for educators, for the securities industry writ large to play a role in being that trusted source of unbiased non-sales, pitchy information.
We do see that Gen Z's that are investing are more likely to have gotten some money from their parents. And as Andres mentioned, the demographics are that they are more likely to have a higher educational attainment, they're more likely to have more income. So, a lot of that equity in society plays into the reasons that people are not investing. But you asked about opportunity and education, I think, is the key opportunity.
29:08 - 29:18
Kaitlyn Kiernan: Final question. At the end of the day, what are your overall thoughts on this study? What do you think are the key takeaways for our listeners?
29:18 - 30:32
Andres Vinelli: To me, there's a few facts that stand out. First of all, the level of engagement by this generation in the world of investing is something that we haven't seen before. So, that is great news. The second one is this generation is savvy. It's focused on learning, and this is so important and learning by doing, which is what this generation is doing. It's exactly the right way to go. You can start very small, but we also see that folks who did start are getting into investment mostly for the right reasons, which is to plan for life events, for things that we want to do in the future, say taking a short vacation or more grandiose goals, homeownership or retirement and all that. So, investing puts you into the right frame to tackle many challenges in life. This is a generation that is very smart on this, and they seem to have a healthy relationship with their parents in terms of seeking some level of advice but making up their own mind. So, it's an encouraging study as far as I see it.
30:33 - 31:42
Gerri Walsh: I 100% agree with Andres. Our capital markets work best when they are open to all, and people can participate with knowledge and the world has changed. So, I am excited by this study. I feel like I've met the new generation of investors, but I can't wait to meet their younger siblings. This is a story that continues. We are constantly having to adapt our methods of engaging investors, and it's not limited to the generations. The technologies that have democratized investing are also available to the Millennials and the Gen Xers and the Boomers, of which I am one. I am the Boomer representative on this panel. So, I see that this is an evolving story. We continue to research this generation and all generations of investors to learn about what their motivators are, what their challenges are, and it informs what we, as regulators, what we as investor educators, can do to help grow the capital market. So, I'm excited for the possibilities.
31:43 - 32:33
Kaitlyn Kiernan: Awesome. I am also excited to continue to learn about this generation. Gerri and Andres, thank you so much for joining me to talk through this really fascinating study. Definitely encourage our listeners to check out the link in our show notes to see all the meaty information in the new study. So, again, thank you to FINRA Foundation and the CFA Institute for pulling that together. For our listeners, if you don't already, you can subscribe to FINRA Unscripted wherever you listen to podcasts to stay up to date on all of our latest episodes, including the upcoming crypto episodes as I mentioned. If you have any ideas for future episodes or comments on today's episode, you can email us at [email protected]. Today's episode was produced by me, Kaitlyn Kiernan, engineered by John Williams and coordinated by Hannah Krobock. Until next time.
32:33 – 32:38
32:38 - 33:06
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