The world of wealth is never truly democratic, but digital changes to our money habits are certainly giving the little guy a fighting chance.
Only a few years ago, we didn't have the Sharesies, Hatch, InvestNow and Stake online platforms that let you invest as much or as little as you can afford.
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You often needed $2000, $10,000, or even more, to even enter the game of investing and start growing your wealth.
Now it's open to someone who has just $1 spare at the end of the week.
They can put their money to work, grow their wealth, and the snowball impact of that can be enough to seriously change their money situation.
Four years ago, when I'd only just started the Cooking the Books podcast, I was approached by a new company still in beta mode – meaning they weren't open to everyone just yet, only a few, to test out whether people would use their online service for investing in shares.
They wanted to come on the podcast to talk about shares investing, and how online access could change it.
"Hmm, who are these guys?" I remember thinking. "'Sharesies'? They're all online? And still just in beta?"
I told them to stay in touch and I would talk to them in a few months, depending on how their business was going.
It seems laughable now. Sharesies is a behemoth, with regular people often mentioning them in conversation with me, telling me they've started an account to drip-feed in $5 a week.
That's backed up by data just released by the Financial Services Council. Their latest research, The Rise of the Digital Investor, found 38 per cent of adult New Zealanders are either already using, or planning to use, these online micro-investing platforms.
That's about 1.5 million of us, men, women, young, and old, embracing a new tool for taking charge of our money.
It's a far cry from the days when you would say "stocks investor" and immediately picture an older man in a suit.
Now it's more likely to be someone under 30 with a smartphone in hand.
I'm clearly a fan of all of this. I like seeing people taking charge of their money, I think investing is a wonderful way to create financial security and independence, and the DIY approach allows people to pay lower fees, keeping more of their investment profits for themselves.
There is a small dark cloud on this silver lining though.
Jumping into these platforms, with no financial adviser or stockbroker to hold your hand, can lead to people making decisions without fully understanding the risks.
The FSC research also shows that 9.5 per cent of us are now investing in cryptocurrencies, a huge surge from only 3.1 per cent in March last year.
That isn't bad in itself. Crypto is a valid investment, and a fascinating technology that could well change many things in the financial world.
But it's not a proven wealth-building strategy.
Shares in a business make money from the business doing well, creating profits, and then sharing those profits with their investors.
It's pretty easy to track what's happening and why, so you can decide where you want to put your money.
Meanwhile, many cryptocurrencies haven't found an actual use yet.
They don't create anything, and despite being "the currency of the future", aren't used as payments in many places.
The investment strategy is instead that of waiting for "the greater fool" – you buy some crypto, then hope that someone else wants to buy it even more in the future, and so will pay more than you did.
It's not the same as shares, despite some talking about them almost interchangeably as "risky assets".
You can still legitimately decide to invest in crypto, based on the promise of what could come in the future.
But because that's not here yet, I personally would keep it as a small sliver of overall investments. There's nothing wrong with putting five per cent of your investing money into something that is highly risky, but it's not where you want the majority.
Are people treating crypto as this much higher risk asset, and balancing out their investments accordingly? Some are. Some definitely aren't.
This is why I was so pleased to see another digital change made this year.
The Financial Markets Authority made changes to how you can get financial advice this year, including making it much easier to provide robo-advice.
We all like to think we're special snowflakes, but the reality is, most of us need fairly similar financial strategies based on our age, our values, and how comfortable we are taking risks.
"Never forget, you are unique – just like everyone else," as my dad used to say.
Even that wasn't unique. It's a quote from Margaret Mead.
Robo-advice takes advantage of the fact that we're pretty similar to each other, asking a set of questions, and then making financial suggestions based on them.
It's much cheaper than going to see a person, and is all that's needed for many of us.
Unfortunately, this is where the digital adoption appears to trail off, with only 34 per cent of New Zealanders telling the FSC they thought robo-advice was safe.
Then again, it's a service that's only really become available this year.
Maybe in another four years, it'll have exploded in the same way as Sharesies.
This column is general information only, and not individual financial advice.
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