Investing is often couched as something rich people do – poor folk save.
More than a decade of the state-sponsored KiwiSaver scheme has seen a lot of those investments swell to tens of thousands of dollars – big enough for people to lean on their providers over what they're actually invested in.
But that hasn't triggered a spill-over of investment into other assets. Kiwis still seem to stick their cash in the bank, with a recent Kiwi Wealth survey showing a savings account was the second-most used investment vehicle at 62 per cent of respondents, just behind KiwiSaver at 69 per cent.
Cue the usual Wellington response: 'the government should do something'.
Successive administrations have obliged with worthy reports, interesting research and well-meaning strategies. The partial SOE privatisations under the previous government at least got more people on to the registers of power companies if not into other stocks.
So it's refreshing to see a market solution showing real promise. And out of the capital, no less.
Two-year-old Sharesies provides an online platform for people to make regular small investments in a range of funds. Both its 47,000 user-base and the $57 million invested through the portal have almost doubled since the end of September.
Sharesies had its origins in the 2017 Kiwibank-sponsored fintech accelerator programme and has been interesting enough to make the big end of town take notice. Trade Me pumped in $4 million last year and the start-up has just been accredited as an NZX participant.
Cash and access to corporate smarts is handy in the early life of a fintech company, but NZX accreditation shows they're being taken seriously.
The stock market operator has been at pains to revive the country's capital markets and has ended a two-year drought of fresh public offers with the somewhat speculative Cannasouth listing and the upcoming float of Napier Port.
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For Sharesies, accreditation means a shift from offering a range of managed and exchange-traded funds to providing direct share investments.
The firm's goal is to remove barriers to investing; its mantra is to give someone with $5 the same investment opportunities as someone with $500,000.
A way to do that in share transactions is by carving up each share – known as fractionalisation.
That sounds dry, but by opening the door for someone to chuck $5 a week into a particular stock, say Spark, it enables sizeable stakes to be built up over time and eliminates the need to have a chunky sum upfront to invest.
Sharesies has been talking about expanding its product range for a while, but co-founder Leighton Roberts says the move into shares was demand-driven.
"They wanted access to New Zealand stocks. The direction came from our customers."
That makes sense when interest rates around the world are super low and likely to go even lower.
While someone could've relied more readily on the cash flow from bonds and term deposits 15 years ago, investors now accept a certain amount of equity risk and are buying shares in infrastructure companies, utilities and property firms to secure reliable dividends.
Sharesies has piqued the interest of all kinds of people, and is keenly focused on building a community.
As an online native, web-based forums are an obvious way for it to spread the word. But it doesn't shy away from real-life and is using share club events where industry professionals talk about investing and field questions from the floor.
The bulk of its users are under-40 and happy to use digital devices – not your typical attendee at an annual meeting. That's attractive to NZX chief executive Mark Peterson.
"They're very happy to look at different types of investors – that bit's interesting for us," he says.
"It fits exactly into the conditions we're trying to create here."
Peterson says existing broker networks and wealth managers cater to the high net-worth crowd and institutional investors, while the likes of ASB Securities and Jarden's Direct Broking tick the box for DIY investors.
The NZX chief is on a mission to make the local market more attractive with updated listing rules and a new pricing regime. That's principally to drive greater liquidity – a key plank for a healthy capital market because more activity in security should lead to more accurate pricing.
Sharesies has put forward a pretty sharp offer with no minimum charge and a 0.5 per cent for orders up to $3,000 – think 50 cents to make a $100 investment - compared to the $15 fee ASB Securities would charge.
That hits Sharesies' message of bringing investing to the people, however, its 0.1 per cent fee for any amount above $3,000 stands up pretty well to the 0.2 per cent charge at Direct Broking on $15,000-plus and ASB's 0.3 per cent fee above $10,000.
Don't expect the existing players to sit around twiddling their thumbs. This could be just the jolt the market needs.