Understanding the Millennial Mindset: What Will They Invest in Next?
- Published: 21st September 2021
From crypto to NFTs, millennials led the pack when it came to increasing their investments during the COVID-19 pandemic, many prioritising investing over saving; but where is their money going, and what comes next?
While the pandemic has sparked notable economic changes – from the stock market crash and subsequent rebound, to a UK house price boom and labour shortage – it has also impacted areas like personal saving and investment trends.
Millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) have changed their investment habits the most since the world was hit by ‘COVID-19’. According to a global survey by Natixis/Statista, 23% of millennials invested more during the pandemic, compared with 21% of Gen X and 15% of Baby Boomers.
For 32% of millennials that meant increasing trading activity directly or through online platforms, which was true for 24% of Gen X and 16% of Boomers. Meanwhile, 24% of millennials increased trading activity through an advisor, compared with 18% of Gen X and only 13% of Boomers. And in a TD Ameritrade/Harris Poll of Americans, 17% of millennials said they opened a new investing account in order to shift their financial planning during the early months of the pandemic, versus 12% of Gen Xers and just 2% of Boomers.
The rise of the millennial investors may have nearly as much to do with that generation ‘growing up’ as it does with the pandemic.
Yet it does pose the question:
Where is millennials’ money flowing?
Like any other group, millennials invest their money in a variety of places, from property to mutual funds. It’s impossible to say exactly how many millennials have made specific kinds of investments; and many surveys investigating it might suffer from a skewed sample (e.g. online surveys being more likely to attract online-savvy people, who may be more likely to make certain investments). But there are certainly trends that can be pulled out of research into saving and investment habits. They include:
Though other generations are now catching up, millennials led the way on socially-conscious investing. About one-third of millennials often or exclusively make investments that take ‘Environmental, Social and Governance’ (ESG) factors into account, compared with 16% of Gen X, 2% of Baby Boomers, and 19% of the younger Gen Z, according to a recent Harris Poll for CNBC. Often this means investing in portfolios that specifically exclude ‘bad’ investments in oil and gas, or tobacco and weapons.
Millennials are also more interested in ‘impact investing’ (creating portfolios that benefit society or the environment as well as generating financial gains), with 64% interest ahead of 50% of Gen X and 34% of Boomers; and have long reported wanting their pensions to go into ethical investments.
A meme stock can be any stock that’s getting a lot of attention online and attracting investors. A frequent source is Reddit and threads such as WallStreetBets, which triggered the unprecedented GameStop short squeeze. More than a third of millennial investors – 38% – use social media to get market tips, according to a recent Fidelity survey, although that’s admittedly less than among the younger Generation Z where 41% do.
Growth and dividend stocks
While millennial investors may be more interested in meme stocks and ethical investments than other generations, they don’t make up the majority of their investments. In a recent survey by the Motley Fool, growth stocks were the most popular investments by millennial and Gen Z (58%), with meme and ESG stocks owned by only 30%. Millennials ranked a stock’s historical stability as the most important in deciding to invest, while TikTok-addicted Gen Z placed a slightly higher significance in social media chatter.
It’s perhaps no surprise that the fast-moving, occasionally incomprehensible world of cryptocurrencies holds greater appeal among younger demographics, such as the controversial Dogecoin which started as a joke.
A recent survey from Piplsay found that 49% of millennials owned cryptocurrency compared to 38% of Gen Xers and 13% of Gen Z. A different survey, by the Motley Fool, put this figure slightly lower, with 39% of millennials saying they held cryptocurrencies; though they were outpaced by Gen Z, where 47% said they did. Meanwhile, a survey by online magazine Sophisticated Investor found that 12% of millennials considered cryptocurrency to be the safest investment for 2021, versus 9% of respondents overall.
Interest in non-fungible tokens (NFTs) – blockchain-based digital assets that investors, art collectors and more can purchase exclusive ownership of – has exploded over the last year. A recent survey from Morning Consult found that millennials (especially men) were the most keen to snap up NFTs, with 23% of millenials having made NFT investments compared with 8% of Gen X and 4% of Gen Z that did.
Where will millennials’ investments go next?
While they may be driving investments in crypto assets, a 2021 survey by The Royal Mint found 53% of millennial and Gen Z investors had not gained as much as they hoped from them, or had lost money from them. The research found that many of these young people – 68%, in fact – were consequently considering lower-risk assets such as gold and other precious metals. The Mint further reported a 430% increase in millennials investing in gold via its DigiGold platform in 2020.
While less risky in terms of volatility compared to Cryptocurrencies, investing in precious metals is still not without risk. To really benefit from the market, potential investors should at least get educated on the basics of investing in physical gold, before making any decisions.
According to analysts at Morgan Stanley, only 6.5% of millennials’ assets are in equities – but this is around the 6% that the Boomers held at age 40 (the current age of the oldest millennials). “In subsequent years, the Boomers’ allocation to equities grew to over 25%, implying further stock-market inflows may be in store,” reports Daniel Skelly, Morgan Stanley Wealth Management’s Head of Market Research and Strategy. DailyFX has found that in the US, the most popular millennial stocks include NIO, Apple, Tesla, Plug Power, Aphria and – proving ESG concern doesn’t always hold true – Marathon Oil.
In Q2 of 2021, 70% of millennials and Gen Z investors reported an increase in their risk tolerance, up from 51% last year. And according to a recent survey from ETRADE, 72% of millennial and Gen Z investors are confident in their portfolio decisions, up from 56% who were confident before the pandemic.
Jonathan Merry, CEO of foreign exchange comparison website MoneyTransfers.com, comments: “As the global economy and stock markets stabilise further, millennials are likely to show even more confidence in their portfolios and report a larger appetite for risk. That could mean assets like cryptocurrencies and NFTs, but it could also expand to broader investment opportunities as millennials’ knowledge base grows.”
A recent Barclays report highlights that in the UK, over 80% of household wealth is held by the over-45s. Over the next 30 years, this is set to be transferred between generations as inheritance or gifts in ‘The Great Wealth Transfer’.
MoneyTransfers.com’s Jonathan Merry says: “While many of the recipients of generational wealth are likely to put this towards assets like property, where the majority of their inherited wealth likely came from, others may suddenly find themselves in a position to invest but feel they lack the knowledge. That could mean they turn to their long-term bank’s diversified funds, or to managed funds where less decision-making and research is required.”
Stock trading apps like Robinhood, E*Trade, Stash and SoFi Invest have boomed during the pandemic, partly as people stuck at home have searched for something exciting to do. With their focus on usability and low fees, they’ve also attracted many newcomers to investing; half of Robinhood’s 3 million new users in 2020 were first-time investors, and the average age of the platform’s user base is around 30.
With numerous reports showing millennials want to conduct their financial lives on their mobiles, the move towards app-based investing among this demographic seems unlikely to slow, across both start-up options and the offerings of more established financial institutions.
Cem Eyi, co-founder of Beanstalk, an investment app offering a stocks and shares junior ISA, says two thirds of its users are millennials and show different saving and investment patterns.
“Younger users are 35% more likely to use our round-up feature on everyday payments to help them save little and often, while older users are more likely to set up a regular Direct Debit contribution. Millennials are also more likely to send links to invite grandparents and other family members to contribute to the pots,” Eyi explains.
“As millennials are having children, they are expecting convenience and flexibility when it comes to products helping them save for the future.”