Retail investing has boomed since the market bottom in March, and online stock trading and investing apps have been a main beneficiary as younger Americans from the millennial and Gen Z generations pour money into stocks that reflect their world and view of the future.
Anthony Noto, CEO of SoFi, says his firm is among those that have quickly grown investment accounts as the stay-at-home environment caused by the coronavirus resulted in a broader migration to digital financial services. Within investing specifically, SoFi has seen a 250% increase in new accounts since the beginning of the year.
As a result of all that market action and interest on mobile, SoFi is launching new social following features within its SoFi Invest service so its members can follow stock portfolios of family, friends and peers, and see what their personal network is buying and selling. The new tools will also include a leaderboard feature, but Noto said this is not an attempt to “gamify” investing and it should not be a surprise that his firm is making this move.
“It follows the theme of social sharing,” he said, noting that SoFi is a shortened version of the firm’s full name, Social Finance.
SoFi ranked No. 8 on this year’s CNBC Disruptor 50 list.
The idea of investing clubs is an old one, made famous for an older generation of Americans by the Beardstown Ladies. Noto said having a watch list and ability to follow people’s market decisions is about giving members more information to help them make investment decisions, as well as access to new ideas.
He said 70% of SoFi members already are talking to friends, family and colleagues about what they are doing using mobile phones, and making them more aware of the investing activities of their network means providing them a broader knowledge set when making decisions.
Unlike a small investment club where family and friends meet in someone’s living room, SoFi has more than 1.5 million members that will be able to access other market opinions, not just any single investment decision but what is happening broadly across a stock and across the portfolios of the community a member is following. He said using the leaderboard feature himself led him to discover perspectives on a stock he had never previously considered.
“Success in investing is not about timing markets or gamification and less than 1% of accounts have more than one trade a day,” the SoFi CEO said.
SoFi does appeal primarily to younger investors, among the millennial and Gen Z cohorts, many of whom are new or novice investors, Noto said. They do tend to buy stocks they like or use, such as stocks in the technology and consumer sector.
“The things that are most popular from a holdings standpoint tend to be things millennials and Gen Zs are interested in and following,” he said.
SoFi’s investment business includes a recent expansion into proprietary exchange-traded funds, where it launched one of the first zero-fee U.S. stock market ETFs, and ETFs designed for its base of members, including funds that track the “gig economy” and one that buys the 50 most widely held stocks on SoFI Invest. Its broader financial services business includes student loan services, one of its original target markets, as well as a recent filing to become a regulated bank, an ambition it has held for some time.