Online platform Sharesies is developing a sizeable cohort of engaged and enquiring customers and progressively helping them to grow in confidence and sophistication as independent decision-makers building investment portfolios.
Lending a helping hand to these clients through education and engagement, and a diverse suite of product offerings, has been a winning formula for the four-year-old company, particularly in the past year.
With $1.3 billion of funds now under management, Sharesies has 350,000 customers — five times more than a year ago. Sharesies has been offering access to NZ and US shares since its foundation in 2017, and is now adding Australian shares to that mix.
Since April, customers have been able to choose from thousands of companies and exchange-traded funds on the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX). The move is part of Sharesies' quest to provide its customers with increased access and exposure to global markets from anywhere at any time.
Providing access to the ASX would have happened earlier were it not for the intervention of the Covid-19 pandemic, but now that it's available, there's keen investor interest.
Sharesies co-founders and husband and wife Leighton and Brooke Roberts have moved to Australia to drive their expansion there, while another co-founder, Sonya Williams, remains in NZ.
Sharesies is working towards obtaining its own financial services licence in Australia, and in the meantime is using another financial services provider to offer its products. Back here, it's the pandemic which has fuelled the growth and the yearning Sharesies customers have for learning more about investment in a multiplicity of companies.
The concept of investors making decisions for themselves and buying shares direct online feels like a fresh and innovative concept for New Zealand, but it has its genesis in the 1980s, Enter the 1987 sharemarket crash, when Mum and Dad investors were hit hard. Recovery from that seminal financial depression has been slow, but is clearly picking up pace in 2021.
Sharesies customers and those of similar online platforms are part of a global trend spawned by Covid for them to be more mobile and portable, and increased stock affordability during a bearish period in world markets.
Their emergence has been a boon for the NZX as interest and investment by small investors coattails on NZ companies strengthening their balance sheets through capital raising to withstand the pressure caused by the chilly economic winds of Covid.
The creation of a "financially-empowered" generation in New Zealand, by fostering wealth development through assisting customers to actively grow diversified investment portfolios is Sharesies main reason for being, Williams says.
Wealth development, as opposed to wealth management, is another.
"That's what keeps us all going. We work on the basis that someone with $5 can have the same investment opportunities as someone with $5 million."
This approach will be music to the ears of advocates for improved financial literary in this country. Sharesies hosts weekly webinars fronted by CEOS and market commentators facilitate Q and A sessions once the guests have completed their presentation. Williams says hearing directly from CEOs about their companies, their challenges, and what drives them is valuable for people deciding whether to invest in a particular stock.
Part of the current Sharesies ethos is encouraging people from across the demographic spectrum to develop belief and confidence in their capacity and ability to be a committed and intelligent investor.
First though, education has been the key — helping people understand shares and how to invest in them. From here, the topsy-like growth has emerged.
"Now, the next stage of our evolution, with people being more ready and comfortable to consider investment as part of their wealth picture is for them to decide how confident they are, and how to keep going at it.
"Wealth development means picking an amount you can afford, and investing on a regular basis. We see that continuing on the platform now with a move from fund investment to company investment."
"People are considering how companies fit as part of their investment portfolio, which from a confidence point of view, is a big step."
This is where the webinars and other forms of ongoing support and education kick in to ensure that despite the independence they have to make their own decisions, customers aren't left completely on their own. "You don't need to know it all on day one. I'm a big fan of learning by doing — an expert happens one day at a time," Williams says.
Sharesies encourages its customers to "get stuck in and get comfortable" — and then move onto the next stage of adding companies to a portfolio or dipping their toes into global exchanges.
"It gives investors more choice and more diversified portfolios. it's fascinating for them to be able to invest in these global companies and things that are aligned to their interests.
"Making sure our investors are on that journey to grow their wealth in a meaningful way is a large part of our focus. It means really understanding the challenges they face, what their next questions are, and working out how we're going to solve that.
"It could be by building a new suite of products or education and engagement — we have a lot available to help solve some of these problems — it won't all happen in one go."
Surveys and interviews Sharesies has done with its inventors and non-Sharesies customers alike have revealed a strong desire to invest, but a reluctance to do so due to a dearth of confidence and knowledge. Nearly half of Kiwis (45 per cent) are taking steps to educate themselves online, compared to 76 per cent of Sharesies investors.
Sharesies has found when it comes to attitudes about money, Kiwis (including Sharesies investors) are keen to plan for the future, find dealing with money interesting, and feel their spending is under control.
During the pandemic, Kiwis have been careful with their spending, whilst setting clear goals for their money.
The wealth development strategy expounded by Williams and her colleagues has paid dividends given 85 per cent of their investors say they would apply their savings to buying shares, compared to just 33 per cent for non-Sharesies investors.
These figures indicate fertile ground exists to entice these erstwhile "non-believers" into the Sharesies fold.
Most popular Sharesies investor stocks by market:
1. Air New Zealand
2. A2 Milk
3. Sky Network
2. Gamestop Corporation
3. Bailador Technology