For a young generation reared on the Internet and video games, concessions are being made to accommodate Millennial attention spans and learning styles. Forbes has been reporting on so-called “gamification” for months now, describing how many of the world’s largest employers are using video game models to increase the efficiency of recruitment, training, and on-the-job productivity. But it’s not just the Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.'s (WMT) of the world that have recognized this. Gamification has trickled down into most aspects of our lives, especially those of young people. This is no more true than in the realm of personal finance.
In decades past, this was the realm of pencil-wielders, willing to read, research, and exploit advantages discovered through rigor. The winners were those most obsessed with finance as a discipline – a constant preoccupation. While I don’t think this is changing soon, I do think we will start to see more people investing than in decades past, in large part due to digital tools meant to help new investors learn the ropes in what is for many an intimidating facet of personal finance.
The Harsh Reality of American Retirement Savings
And it’s happening none too quick. Approximately 40% of baby boomers entering retirement have NO savings, much less investments to bring security to their golden years. Of those polled in the linked survey, only 27% were confident they’d saved enough for their retirement. America has been waking up to this reality, at least on the fringes. Bernie Sanders and other progressives have been ringing this bell for quite a while, citing statistics identifying fewer than 50% of American adults with more than $10,000 in a savings account. With Social Security liable to reduce coverage in the coming decades (or with taxes increased to prop it up), young Americans in their 20’s and 30’s need to be preparing for retirement even more than their parents and grandparents did. And there are plenty of digital resources, meeting them where they live and work, to help them do just that.
User-Friendly Digital Investing Programs
Betterment is an example of a company that has emerged to make it easy for new investors to take the most important step of their career: the first one. Because so many never begin investing, any measures that can spur people to action are good: for individuals, for their children and family, for the larger economy. Betterment is simplicity itself, getting new users set up in minutes, investing them in ETFs according to their risk tolerance. As dividends are earned, they are reinvested to keep users’ selected stock/bond ratios in place. That formula is simple, and you don’t need to pay Betterment to set it up for you. Everyone could just go on Vanguard (as Betterment does) and buy ETFs. But the thing is, most people don’t do this. If a service like Betterment can come along and make this already easy process easier, so much so that a lot more people begin investing, then it is performing a social good (and making a ton of money doing it).
Lending Club is a similar example. Using Peer to Peer lending strategies that are attractive to young people (making loans available fast for people with not-perfect credit), they are also a great option for investors. Using a reverse-auction format, new investors can bid on loan proposals, and start seeing their money coming back with interest every month. Like Betterment, Lending Club is usable through web and mobile applications. Actually, it’s the only way to use them. The platforms are slick and simple to use. In many ways, these services are “gamifying” personal finance and investment, the way the aforementioned retailers are gamifying what it means to be an employee.
Whether fancy digital formats will bring the youngest adult generation up to speed with investment and preparation for the future is yet to be seen. But hundreds of thousands are already on board, starting their first IRAs and initiating other, more aggressive, investments. It has yet to be seen if we’ve even reached the tipping point. But it’s certain that by simplifying the baby steps of investment, these platforms are making it a lot easier for young people to get started with investment. You’ll see a lot of imitators and innovators in the next few years, and I think that’s a good thing for today’s personal finance.
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