Is this the way forward for women investors? Or is it style over substance and Groupthink?
“Money is only a tool. It will take you wherever you wish, but it will not replace you as the driver.”
– Ayn Rand
“Fear,” “anxiety,” “inadequacy,” and “dread” are words that 47% of women with at least $25,000 of investable assets associate with financial planning, according to the March 2020 U.S. Bank Women and Wealth Insights Study. According to the Federal Reserve, women are less comfortable managing their retirement investments and making investment decisions than men. Only a fraction of American women (26%) is investing in the stock market. Why is this the case? Largely, it’s simply an issue of avoidance, fear of the unknown, and a long tradition of lack of financial guidance to, and discussions with, our daughters as they grow up.
According to a 2022 Wells Fargo study, it is probable at some point, women will be in charge of their family’s finances, and women are increasingly becoming the sole or primary breadwinners in their families. The good news reported by Wells Fargo is that women exhibit several important strengths related to their investment success, including discipline, willingness to learn, and a selective approach to risk-taking. Women have a greater willingness to develop a financial plan and adhere to that plan. The report states that from January 2016 to December 2020, female-led accounts achieved higher absolute returns than male-led accounts for the five-year period, and on a risk-adjusted basis, women investors led men; the data revealed that women investors, on average, took approximately 82% of the risk that men took and still achieved higher returns.
This is all good news and substantiates that when women focus on investing and leave their fears and avoidance at the doorstep, they can be effective in building their wealth through investing without taking on outsized risks and trying to get rich quick.
State of Play with Women and Crypto
There is a movement to expand inclusion in crypto because the industry has developed a reputation as a male-dominated space that’s less welcoming to women founders and engineers. There are very few women leading the creation of crypto products and services or acting as thought leaders in the space. A December 2021 report by Crypto Head found that less than 5% of all crypto entrepreneurs are women — even though more women have started investing in blockchain-powered digital assets such as crypto and NFTs. It is being argued that the early stages of a new industry are when fortunes are made, and the people who are the big winners influence the direction and the future of the industry, and further that women shouldn’t wait to become a part of it, or they will miss out on economic empowerment.
CNBC reported in Summer 2021 on cryptocurrency’s “big gender problem”. According to that report, Crypto investing and culture were supposed to level the investing playing field, and yet most women remained on the sidelines. In June 2022, a GOBankingRates study stated that just 15% of women invest in crypto compared to 38% of men. In my opinion, this statistic is good news for women investors and evidence that they are less likely to buy into the hype!
Enter the nascent online community investing platforms springing up with the motivation to create a “community” in investing for women (and Gen Z) and the desire to make information accessible and digestible so as not to be intimidating or overwhelming. These communities can be accessed through apps and websites, and in an effort to diminish the idea that investing is difficult and complicated, they are colorful, hip, and a platform for people to share their ideas about what to invest in. More on that later…
In addition to these community-inspired investor platforms, celebrities and moguls weigh in on investment in cryptocurrencies and are often paid influencers encouraging people to put their money into crypto because it is the future.
The Crypto Ambassadors
Unless you live under a rock, you are probably aware that the current state of play in the crypto market is extreme volatility resulting in a crypto meltdown. Since November 2021, Bitcoin has nosedived 70%, and the value of the cryptocurrency market has decreased by approximately $2 trillion.
The notion that crypto is an inflation hedge and has no correlation to the stock market has proven to be erroneous, and there is a lot of pain in the crypto world. The pain has been exacerbated by the amount of leverage in the crypto-system – i.e., there is a lot of debt in the system due to centralized lending schemes. A few of these lending platforms have had to pause operations or file for bankruptcy.
If you watched the 2022 Super Bowl, you may know that it was nicknamed the “Crypto Bowl” because there were so many ads featuring the crypto industry, many of them featuring major celebrities. During Crypt.com’s commercial featuring Matt Damon with the tagline “Fortune Favors the Brave”, Damon compared the creation of virtual money to the invention of aviation and the development of space flights. In other words, life-changing for society!
Well, not really… because if you invested on the day Damon’s ad launched and still are invested since then, you will have seen a loss of 63%. If you are waiting to at least break even and return to the full value of your initial investment, the price of Bitcoin must increase by 171%. I guess that could be considered life-changing…
To put this in context, if you invested $1,000 in Bitcoin on October 28, 2021, and didn’t touch the investment from there, that Bitcoin would now be worth $369.80.
Hollywood celebrities and famous athletes have shared their enthusiasm for crypto with the masses on social media, during interviews, and in music videos in which a virtual currency world is portrayed as hip and inclusive, unlike traditional finance and a chance to make tons of money.
Spreading the word about the potential of crypto to enrich investors has also been targeted at women. Reese Witherspoon, another celebrity promoter of crypto, boldly stated that “crypto is here to stay”. Paris Hilton, who has almost 17 million followers on Twitter, often features her dogs Crypto and Ether. Gwyneth Paltrow has endorsed investing in it. With all these celebrity endorsements, it may be easy for women to be swayed by the herd mentality to be part of a hip community with so many famous members hinting that this is the way to make significant sums and get rich quick.
The thing is, all these celebrities who are offering up their thoughts, influence, and encouragement to participate in the crypto world can afford to lose money given their overall net worth, whereas the people who are watching the ads or listening to their advice, often cannot afford to lose their savings to a crypto meltdown and the losses can be devastating to their lives and well-being.
The Emergence of the Online Community
Let’s be BFFs
One community endorsed by several well-known celebs and successful women in tech, is BFF, a decentralized and open-access online community with the purpose of making crypto and Web3 accessible to women and nonbinary people. (FYI, Web3 is a catch-all phrase that includes a confluence of technologies such as blockchain, cryptocurrencies, and NFTs (non-fungible tokens)).
BFF’s 70 founding members include Gwyneth Paltrow, Mila Kunis, Tyra Banks, Kate Hudson, Rent the Runway CEO, Jennifer Hyman, and Eventbrite CEO, Julia Hartz, just to name a few. Members exchange advice on the creation of crypto wallets, purchasing crypto and NFTs, and how to identify scams. The mission of the group states: “Together, we aim to foster opportunity, community, and a household-name brand built to scale and endure for years to come.”
It’s a strange combination of a shopping and event site encapsulated in a site where women can message each other about crypto and NFT questions and suggestions and learn the basics of crypto investing. It drives engagement through promotional giveaways and live events. At its January launch, it gave away (“airdropped”) thousands of friendship bracelet tokens which the recipients could then exchange for a profile picture NFT of themselves.
Featured in stories in the BFF launch are people who have been investors in crypto since the early days, the OGs, who became “financially independent” and who are considered “outsiders” to traditional stereotypes, and crypto investing enabled them to be successful while being their authentic selves. According to Brit Morin, a co-founder of BFF: “A lot of the OG crypto people are so thankful for BFF,” Morin says. “Because at the end of the day, by expanding the market size of who’s participating in crypto, everyone wins.” Hmmm….this sounds a bit like multilevel marketing.
I am worried that women will be swayed by women celebrities, and get caught up in the excitement of colorful fun websites, apps and give aways, and not ask the most important question – is investing in cryptocurrency a sound idea for building my wealth, do I understand it, and is it more akin to gambling?
An Investment Platform with the design of TikTok and the playlists of Spotify
Another investing app for women that was recently launched is Alinea which was founded by 2 Gen Z women (both 25) who met in an economics class at Columbia University. They raised $2.1 million in seed funding for their app. Their thesis is Gen Z has a large share of purchasing power, women constitute only 15% of crypto investors, and the women who are single after the age of 65 (approximately 49%) need investing tools that will last through retirement.
The Alinea app’s mission is to be a platform that is user-friendly and an educational investing platform that enables women of all income strata to build their wealth through traditional investing and crypto investing – which is a great mission if executed properly. The tagline is “We’re Changing The Way The Next Gen Invests. Express yourself”. It’s “investing gone social”.
The Alinea founders say the first investment is the most difficult step, and creating a friendly, familiar, fun, and community-oriented experience will encourage women to be positive about it and embrace its benefits of it. The app allows users to see how their “friends” are allocating their funds by their “playlists” (a list of what they invested in). The premise is to invest in what you know and believe in—put your money where your mouth is and create your own thesis of investing. For example, if you use Apple products, wear LuLu Lemon, drive a Tesla, or drink a certain drink, then you should invest in those things. App users are encouraged to invest in things that align with their beliefs.
With respect to the educational element, in their words, they provide “bite-sized insights, so you can tap and scroll to learn about companies and investing.”
I applaud the effort to generate community, excitement, and the dissemination of “bite-sized” insights in order to get women investing. But, not everything that is worthwhile and reaps benefits should be reduced to a sound bite and group thinking. Fundamental analysis of the underpinnings of an investment is essential to understanding why you should or should not make the investment and how it fits into your overall plan.
It’s Not Just a Gen Z thing, Mastercard created The Belle Block
In June 2022, Mastercard launched The Belle Block, which is a community focused on “educating and empowering women and non-binary individuals to benefit from Web3 technology and crypto.” Mastercard’s Global Crypto and Blockchain team partners with the Web3 community to provide education about crypto and the blockchain. Belle stands for “business growth, education, leadership, legal and regulatory, and entrepreneurship,” and Belle Block believes that crypto will have significant implications on how people spend and save in the future. The mantra is that collaboration is essential for crypto to keep growing.
I am happy that platforms are being created to educate women about investing and to encourage women to be proactive about wealth creation and investing. This is a big step forward.
However, I am concerned with the reductivism of the messaging. The implication that women need overly simplified explanations to understand investing and should follow others in their investment strategy without qualification as to whether these people have any clue as to why they are investing in what they are investing in seems patronizing and condescending to women’s abilities to understand fundamental investment analysis. Yes, there may be a reticence by women to think about investing, BUT with robust educational platforms and messaging over time, this will change.
Bite-sized messaging or messaging primarily through the community can lead to women receiving advice that may hurt them financially. A recent survey by GOBankingRates revealed that 40% of female crypto investors claim savings as the goal for their cryptocurrency investments.
While saving money is a good long-term financial strategy, cryptocurrency is not a safe bet for building savings. The purpose of savings accounts is capital preservation – it is your liquid cushion. The profile of a savings account is the opposite of an investment in cryptocurrency, which is volatile, unregulated by any government entity, and highly speculative. Unfortunately, according to the study, that is exactly what women were using crypto for –savings, with only 13% of female investors saying they chose crypto to make a quick fortune.
But if you are listening to a community of people saying it will help you build wealth, you might be inclined to go along for the ride, which in my opinion, is dangerous. Crypto investments should only be in money you can afford to lose, and I am not sure that message is getting conveyed in these communities
Crypto investing is based on sentiment, group think, and it is highly speculative. Many people who are promoting it or creating communities don’t seem to focus on holistic financial planning and investment strategy – rather just capitalizing on the frenzy of a currency that allowed some to get rich quick due to early entry and herd mentality.
And going back to the beginning of this blog, women are inclined to be more methodical investors and believe in financial planning and have had greater success as investors through informed risk-taking.
Be discerning and elevate becoming financially knowledgeable and building your wealth to be a priority in your life, equivalent to self-care. It deserves your investment of time to educate yourself on fundamental investment analysis and holistic planning to provide you with the life you want to create throughout your years on earth.
Although bite-sized and fun exchanges are easier and “lite”, sometimes we have to take the time to take a deeper dive into the why and to understand that the main difference between speculating and investing is the amount of risk involved. Investors try to generate a satisfactory return on their capital by taking on an average or below-average amount of risk. Speculators are seeking to make abnormally high returns from bets that can go one way or the other.
A true investor is in it for the long term, building a portfolio that, over many years, can eventually provide the financial resources to achieve important goals, such as a comfortable retirement. Investors know they are buying shares in a company that produces goods or services that has a balance sheet and projections of earnings.
But speculators want to see results, in the form of big gains, right now – and they’re often willing to take big risks to achieve these outcomes. The fact is many speculators in cryptocurrency don’t fully comprehend what they’re buying – because crypto just isn’t that easy to understand.
I will conclude by quoting my partner, David Bahnsen, in “A Fool’s Game” Dividend Cafe of July 15th:
“There can be multiple variables and layers, and it can be quite complex, but fundamentally, investing is the realization of a return for the risk one took to invest in a future cash generation (debt, equity, real estate, etc.)… When we talk about “fools” in the above paragraphs, we basically talk about that poor soul who knows not the basic definition of investing. We talk about those who have decided thousands of years of laws of nature no longer apply. We talk about those who are prone to listening to their friends, a chat group, bar talk, or peer pressure more than the fundamental realities of math, science, logic, business, finance, and economics.”
Yours in Fiscal Sisterhood…
The Fiscal Feminist