Most of my readership consists of “Millennials.” For those who don’t know, millennials are commonly defined as anyone born after 1981. We’ve seen a lot over our lifetimes and, more importantly, we understand a lot about the generations that have come before us. This makes us a force to be reckoned with in the work force as well as in the economy. According to this article by Janet Novack and Samantha Sharf from the August 18th issue of Forbes, we are changing the way money is managed and truly opening people’s eyes to other possibilities that challenge the common practices of our forefathers.
Without any apparent irony, the woman who aspires to change financial services in the 21st century sits in a conference room in Manhattan she named for Warren Buffett, despite his famous disdain for technology, and ticks off apps that have reimagined how her generation interacts with the world: Uber for transportation, Tinder for dating, even Washio for laundry and dry cleaning. “We do things on our schedule, from our phones with the push of a button, and we absolutely demand affordability,” says Alexa von Tobel.
Her point, of course, is that financial services are ripe for some youthful disruption. And the 30-year-old New Yorker with a name more befitting an octogenarian baroness has perhaps the leading company for doing just that: Von Tobel founded and runs LearnVest, a site and app designed to make managing your money as easy as streaming music or ordering from Amazon. Since 2009 she’s raised a whopping $72 million, including from Jim Breyer’s Accel Partners, which famously funded Facebook in its early stages. The latest $28 million round, in April, valued LearnVest upwards of a cool quarter-billion.
And von Tobel isn’t alone. Over the past three years, according to CB Insights, more than $1 billion has been sunk into tech-driven personal finance companies–a whopping $261 million in the second quarter of 2014 alone–with a special emphasis on startups targeting young investors, complete with the user-friendly, low-cost, mobile-enabled features they crave (social responsibility is a plus, too). There’s Wealthfront, which helps young tech workers convert company stock into a diversified portfolio of ETFs; Betterment, which automates savings and asset allocation; and Motif Investing, which allows small investors to bet their money on a whole industry or trend (say, “Digital Dollars”) rather than a single stock.
One thing that shapes almost all of these concepts: They’re practical. They emphasize stewardship, long-term appreciation and using technology to cut costs.
“I don’t want to be invested in just one company or one sector. At the same time I also don’t want to put all this work into actually managing my money,” says Cristina Cordova, a 26-year-old Stanford grad who invests through Wealthfront and also pushed the startup where she works to offer a 401(k). Of the few good things that came out of the Great Recession, creating a thrifty generation that appreciates the value of a buck and the need to save may be one of them.
The stakes are huge. For all the public focus on twentysomethings moving back with their parents or Lena Dunham and her underemployed friends carping about their lot on HBO’s Girls, Millennials, roughly defined as young adults born after 1980, control maybe $2 trillion in liquid assets, Wealthfront says. By the end of the decade that number is expected to surge to $7 trillion. And that will get vastly bigger as Millennials enter their prime earning years and then a massive wealth transfer from their Boomer parents begins.
More than just tap the Millennial cash hoard, these startups, and legacy financial managers now actively competing with them, are wagering that mimicking this generation’s mind-set will lead to online innovations in budgeting, planning and managing money that will transform the entire $30 trillion-plus universe of Americans’ investable assets. Fiftysomethings now enjoy bingeing on Netflix, texting that they’re running late and trolling Facebook as much as their kids do. “It’s beyond the tipping point,” says von Tobel of her generation. “[We] are the decision makers, the influencers.”
If that’s not already true, demographics dictate that it soon will be, which means the race to reinvent money management is full-on. And as von Tobel is finding out–her stake in LearnVest is surely worth tens of millions on paper–helping Millennials slowly build small fortunes promises to quickly create some large ones.
Stephanie Halligan graduated from college in May 2009, ready to confirm every stereotype about her generation: She had a less-than-marketable degree (international relations) from an overpriced private school (Boston University), which had left her stacked with debt ($30,000) and no employment prospects (the financial meltdown, at its full nadir, sent her into the worst job market since the Depression).
But a funny thing happened on the way to what, on paper, seemed a few years of slinging Starbucks Frappuccinos near Mom’s house. The Boston charity where she’d volunteered senior year teaching personal finance workshops to refugees agreed to keep her on as an intern with a $1,000-a-month stipend, and by the fall of 2009 she had parlayed that experience into a $47,000-a-year job in Washington developing savings education for the poor. In 2012 she jumped at a higher salary to EverFi, an educational tech company that counts Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and Twitter cofounder Evan Williams among its investors. By last October Halligan had paid off her student loans and built enough savings and confidence to leave her $70,000-a-year job and hang out her shingle as a financial empowerment consultant. “I got rid of my debt because I wanted my freedom,” says Halligan, who already has $50,000 in her retirement accounts and continues to save.
In many ways, Halligan embodies what makes Millennials such a ripe audience for the financial industry. Using the broadest strokes, Baby Boomers, who grew up in the land of plenty that was postwar America, spent their formative years as spenders. Cynical Generation X, aptly distrustful that either government or business would take care of them, turned out to be precocious risk-takers. Millennials, coddled by their helicopter parents and scared straight by the Great Recession, have turned into a generation of savers.
Yes, young adults who have gone no further than high school are worse off than in recent history. But fewer Millennials fall into that camp. Here’s an eye-opening statistic: In 2013, 34% of 25- to 32-year-olds held at least a bachelor’s degree, versus 25% of Gen Xers (born between 1965 and 1980) and 24% of Baby Boomers when they were at the same age, according to the Pew Research Center. And despite their greater numbers and the catastrophic job market during the past five years, those Millennial college grads were earning slightly more, in inflation-adjusted dollars, than Gen Xers did at the same age–a median of $45,500 in 2013, versus $43,663 in 1995, Pew calculates. Yes, the student loan debt accrued collecting all those degrees will surely prove a drag on Millennials’ net worth. But at a May St. Louis Federal Reserve conference focused on personal balance sheet issues, there seemed to be more worry about Gen Xers, who bought homes for top dollar before the real estate crash. Bottom line: a torrent of well-educated Millennials flooding the “mass affluent” market of those with at least $100,000 of investable assets over the coming years.
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The Millennials’ quest for security is one reason they’re turning out to be young savers. Like their Gen X elders, very few believe that they’ll get much, if anything from Social Security. And they hit the job market just as Congress made it easier, in 2006, for companies to use “automatic enrollment” for their 401(k)s (about 60% of employers surveyed by Aon Hewitt now use it). The upshot: Many Millennials have started saving for retirement in their early 20s, compared with a median age of 35 for those Boomers who have saved, according to a new Transamerica Institute study.
Ironically, this generation of digital natives intuitively understand disruptive technology, making them better positioned than any before it in human history to launch businesses of substance (with the Mark Zuckerbergs and Kevin Systroms becoming fabulously wealthy as a result)–yet taken as a whole, they’re too risk averse to leave a good job for a risky gig. Last year, with the job market recovering and the number of “involuntary” entrepreneurs falling, 20- to 34-year-olds had the lowest entrepreneurial startup rate of any age group–a rate which was just half that of 45- to 54-year-olds. In fact, the startup rate in 2013 for young adults was the lowest since the Kauffman Foundation began tracking it in 1996. “They feel constantly obsessing over making money is no way to live,” says Neil Howe, likely America’s biggest expert on generations.
Indeed, a large part of the reason that Halligan set up her own shingle was to make her own schedule. This summer she spent six weeks in Africa, including a Mount Kilimanjaro climb, a trip for which she saved since 2012. Slow and steady, like a mountaineer: That’s how most Millennials seem poised to interact with money going forward–which presents all sorts of opportunity for the financial services industry.
To read the remainder of the article, visit the source, Forbes, by clicking the link.