What happens to a generation raised during the greatest recession the world had ever experienced? It produces generational trends that starkly contrast with previous generations. Generation X trusted large institutions and believed in owning houses by the age of 28. Millennials are increasingly turning away from banks and renting apartments. Beyond these trends, there are the regular Millennial tropes: “Millennials murdered napkins and killed cereal” “A generation of idle trophy kids”. Regardless if you believe in these tropes, Millennials have been shaped by their circumstances and they are currently shaping our present and future.
Millennials, those born between 1982 and 1996 (currently 24-38 years young), make up about 22% of the U.S. population. They, in general, have less money than previous generations, are more encumbered by debt, put off big commitments like marriage and home ownership, and opt for the sharing economy over product purchases (like cars). This didn’t just happen. All of these trends are a direct result of the world Millennials grew up-in. Those trends are shifting how financial markets are growing.
During the 2009 Recession, many Millennials were about to head to college, trying to figure out how to pay for increasing tuition rates while savings dried up. At the same time, Wall Street executives, who can be blamed for the economy’s demise, resigned with huge payouts. This image is one to turn you a little bitter. So, it’s no surprise that 73% of Millennials say they would be more excited about a financial offering from a company versus a nationwide bank and 33% believe that they won’t need a bank in the future. Instead of relying on wealth advisors associated with big banks and big fees, Millennials have turned to robo-advisors. From Betterment to Robinhood to Acorns, the growing space of investment apps has made direct investing more accessible and inclusive and cheaper for Millennials.
Living through the Recession taught millennials one more lesson- diversify your portfolio. As compared to 26% of Generation X and 13% of Baby Boomers, 41% of Millennials hold student loan debt. That means, they aren’t ready to leave any savings or investments in one place- afraid that one bad economic crash could wipe out their safety nets. So, diversification is key. As a result, 83% of Millennials express openness to alternative investment strategies (almost 30% more than older investors). That means retirement accounts, active investment, passive investing, and alternative investing. While you might think alternative investing means flashy assets like BitCoins, it also means assets like real estate and infrastructure. While Millennials might be postponing that first home purchase, they are definitely eyeing a piece of that real estate investment through platforms like Fundrise. These long-term investments are often uncorrelated with the economy and offer stable returns- not a bad place for early investors to hold their money.
The tropes about Millennials “killing” things, doesn’t just mean entire industries are struggling to market to this generation. It also means that Millennials are revaluing the economy. Instead of buying things, Millennials are buying products that are more sustainable for the earth and more sustainable for their communities. Multiple studies have shown that this generation is focusing on social and environmentally charged causes, products, and experiences. In 2017, a Morgan Stanley survey found that millennials are twice as likely to make social or environmental investments. And since 2016, sustainability, responsibility and impact investing has increased more than 38% to $12 trillion in the United States. Sustainable investing mutual funds and exchange-traded funds have increased 50%.
Sustainable investing has taken on a new meaning with the rise of place-based investing, locavesting, and community investment. Community investing has become a subcategory of socially responsible investing where individuals choose to put dollars to work locally for housing, job opportunities, education, and community services. This trend is documented in Amy Cortese’s Locavesting: The Revolution in Local Investing and has been capitalized by online platforms like Small Change, Buy the Block, and Mainvest. While we are most familiar with the shift to local through popular local food and local business movements, there are established organizations like CDFIs and foundations, as well as mechanisms such as Community Investment Funds, that support local investments.
If you combine these trends you can see a direct relation to crowdfunding infrastructure. Crowdfunding is a mechanism that allows retail investors to invest directly in products, enterprises, and causes that are meaningful. In effect, crowdfunding stands apart from Wall Street banks, allowing investors to invest at lower minimums and without high brokerage and advisor fees. And, infrastructure is an alternative and local asset that has direct environmental and social impacts. The idea of crowdfunding infrastructure, and technology that supports the built environment like ConTech and InfraTech, is an impressive match for Millennial investing trends. InfraShares offers a marketplace for Millennials who are seeking out alternative, sustainable investments away from conventional markets. But, you don’t have to be a Millennial to see the benefit of that.