Cast your mind back to January when your Twitter timeline started to explode with memes about the stock market. No matter who you follow, you couldn’t escape the stock market explainer videos, GIFs of Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street and grainy screenshots of Reddit feeds talking about the gaming company GameStop.
Most of us woke up a little confused by what was happening; before this pop culture moment, stocks were not something we talked to our friends about or even retweeted.
But something happened during the pandemic that made us think about investing differently. Thanks to that trifecta of nowhere to go, time to think about our finances and tons of screen contact, the world of investing entered the mainstream.
According to a 2021 survey, the younger generation is embracing the idea of investing as it becomes more accessible via apps. Over a quarter of Generation Z (27%) and millennials (32%) say they are more likely to invest due to the ease of apps, while 79% of women aged 18 to 24 and 60% of women aged 25 to 34 say they hold at least one investment already. Black women, in particular, have begun to have conversations about stocks, cryptocurrency and the world of retail investing.
"During the pandemic, I developed a growing interest in stocks and bitcoin," says 18-year-old student Aarony Bailey. "While I didn’t feel comfortable investing right away, for the first time I became really intrigued about how the world of investing worked."
She continues: "I come from an artistic home where talk of investing and cryptocurrency is very limited but, all of a sudden, my timeline was flooded with this stuff. Before the pandemic, these money topics felt way out of my comfort zone, like you had to be an academic to know how they worked or where to seek out information on them, but suddenly there were memes about Tesla stocks trending on my timeline."
London-based children's author Nadine Wild-Palmer started 2020 with zero plans to invest. "To be honest, I think many women of colour, like me, are just trying so hard to stay afloat to begin with," she says. "And it’s hard enough to understand the way that finance works on a day-to-day basis with normal banking apps."
Now she’s glued to her Coinbase app to get the latest on how her crypto investment is faring. "I was definitely apprehensive at first because learning a whole new system of currency felt daunting, but after a few months I realised that it’s a bit like learning a new language."
Nadine took the plunge into investing after her plans for the year were turned upside down when her wedding plans changed due to COVID-19. She invested the money she had saved from downsizing her celebrations in bitcoin and spent the pandemic with her now-husband watching their investment via the app.
"As with everything you have to understand the risks but I’m not worried about the outcomes," she adds. "I’m just glad that we decided to take a leap of faith and see what happens. I see investing as a new way of bonding and actually it feels quite healthy learning to face our wins and losses together."
There’s no denying that investing apps have made the whole process of buying bitcoin or investing your money in the stock market feel less intimidating. "The aspect I love most about these apps is the user interface," says 24-year-old Cashai Wilson, a freelance writer from south London. "I spent the pandemic downloading and using apps like Moneybox and Yolt. They are so simple to use and the features are just great."
These features include everything from videos that explain stocks and shares ISAs — a product that lets you invest your savings in the stock market — to how to invest your money sustainably. The simplicity of the apps makes the world of cryptocurrency and stocks feel more accessible. Investment platform AJ Bell reported in April 2021 that customer numbers on its direct to consumer site were up by 48% this year, with younger customers driving that growth. Elsewhere, a recent report from stockbroker firm Charles Schwab UK revealed that cryptocurrency is the "flavour of the month" for millennial investors. Sarah Coles, personal finance analyst at investment platform Hargreaves Lansdown, tells Refinery29 that women in particular are making their mark on the platform. "In terms of new female clients, the number of new HL accounts held by women is up around a fifth in a year."
These direct to consumer platforms and apps have low fees attached to them and incentives where you can start from investing £50 a month, which makes it easier for those who want to try out investing without making a major commitment.
Gloria Ukoh, a digital creator from London, was attracted to the fact that the investing apps she researched didn’t require too much from her and allowed her to combine her regular savings habit with investing. "During the pandemic, I started to invest but only a tiny bit," she says. "I’m using Moneybox to invest — through the stocks and shares ISA. The minimum amount to get started felt manageable and I liked that whatever profit I make is tax-free."
Jazmine Marie Rocks, 28, a global social content manager from Bromley, also used the pandemic to complement her savings goals with some investing. She’s laser-focused on her finances this year to achieve her dream of homeownership in London, which can often feel impossible. "I’ve been investing small amounts on the Trading 212 app because that’s my comfort level, but honestly it’s probably peanuts in the grand scheme of things! I currently have a general savings account and a Help to Buy ISA too. Everything I've saved, I've saved from scratch, and I'm so proud of the financial stability I'm creating for myself."
The rise of Black female finance influencers — 'finfluencers' as trend agency Wunderman Thompson calls them — has also helped to boost this trend. Popular Instagram channels include those by financial coach Bola Sol and YouTuber Patricia Bright's finance channel The Break; there's also Kia Commodore's Pennies to Pounds podcast and the 1xtra Money Moves podcast, hosted by Toni Tone.
Finance coach Krystle McGilvery runs her own financial consultancy and has personally seen an increase in the number of Black women enquiring about finance and investing. She knows firsthand how much her clients enjoy working with a woman of colour. "When you think of investing, the image of an older white male comes to mind and this makes the industry feel out of reach for many," she says. "Social media offers a means of finding more people you identify with, including those like me, who are educating others about finance. The affinity bias refers to the relatability that exists when we come across people that are like us. Being able to see people on social media talking about finance and investing, including Black people and Black women, I believe has encouraged other Black women to discuss finance and invest themselves."
There’s no denying that the Black Lives Matter movement and conversations around generational wealth have also accelerated this move towards investing. Since last summer, when discussions raged around health, livelihood, equity and equality, the idea of who gets to benefit from current systems has moved front and centre. "I do see the Black Pound Day initiative playing a part in the increased focus of the Black community in business, finance and generational wealth too," McGilvery adds.
"We can’t overlook the practical aspects, because women’s incomes are lower and less secure," says Coles. "Women are more likely to take time off work to care for children — then work part-time or flexibly during their childhoods — than men. The combination of career gaps and lower incomes means women have less money to put away, and when they do, the relative insecurity of their earnings means they’re more likely to feel they can’t risk a loss."
It’s important to clarify that investing is not without its risks: you could easily earn back way less than you put in, or lose the whole lot, which has real consequences if you are already earning less as a person of colour. While apps have lowered the barrier to entry, the Financial Conduct Authority released a report in February highlighting that online trading apps pose a problem for people who download them and start investing without prior knowledge or education around the stock market. The report also revealed that low levels of financial resilience make young Black women more "vulnerable to investment loss". This was an extremely important warning for naïve investors who might have clicked on random links or private DMs that promised million-pound returns. But it also overlooked the beauty and magic on social media within Black communities, where peer-to-peer support and educational tools have never been stronger in an attempt to combat these risks.
Black communities have traditionally always worked together to accumulate wealth (post-Windrush, Caribbean communities used 'pardners' to save up to buy property in the UK) but money wasn't spoken about in a public setting. Social media has created a space to share real, lived experiences around wealth building. These online meeting places have become sub-communities packed with well-researched tips and messages of support which explore a full range of investments that Black women are making for their financial future.
Chloe Forde, who is in her early 30s and works as a stylist and cofounder of Ace and Prince, recently invested in property rather than stocks. When documenting the process on Instagram, she was surprised to discover how many of her followers regularly asked her about money, investing and generational wealth.
What started as an ad-hoc Instagram series has now become a regular Q&A and Chloe thinks that it's a privilege to be able to talk about money and generational wealth more openly. "Generational wealth allows for knowledge and power to be shared," she says. "I believe it's such a gift to be able to pass around these cheat codes to help the community build wealth, and to offer real assets that I can pass down to my children."