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COLUMN: Say ‘hello’ to the investor in a hoodie

COLUMN: Say ‘hello’ to the investor in a hoodie

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Randy Wheeless

Randy Wheeless

When I was 13, I marched into Wheat First Securities and declared I was ready to buy some stock. I had almost $100.

Luckily, a kind broker walked me through the particulars about buying stock (like needing a parent’s permission) and steered me to a solid preferred stock that paid a nice 8% dividend.

I kept that stock for 10 years and rejoiced every time my $1.50 quarterly dividend check came in the mail. It was a teachable financial moment in my life.

Today, while the GameStop short squeeze grabs headlines on CNBC and calls for hearings in Congress, we should not miss the teachable moment that may benefit kids and adults alike – the financial education about money and the stock market.

The stock market is the greatest wealth creator in the world, but the barriers of entry always seemed too great for most people – especially 13-year-olds. Brokerage fees and stock prices at hundreds of dollars per share seemed more like the suit-and-tie crowd versus the hoodie-and-sneaker generation.

But the recent advent of sites like Robinhood and Dough have torn down the walls of entry: no commissions, no fees. Five dollars can buy you a fraction of a share from companies as varied as Bank of America to Tesla.

Yes, people can lose money in the stock market. Not every stock pick I made was a winner. I learned some tough lessons. Successful investing takes reading, research and a fair amount of patience – the same skills we’re trying to teach our own kids.

If the stock market replaces Mario Brothers and Warcraft as the recreation of choice for the younger generation – is that a bad thing? What better way to understand capitalism than to be an active participant? Critics say we should not treat the stock market as a game. But isn’t life the biggest game of all? The more experience and understanding we have of it, the better equipped we will be to succeed.

More people are joining this new wave of investing and that’s good for our economy and good for the financial knowledge of our citizens. Most of us will not be running a Wall Street hedge firm, but we will make decisions in the future about mortgages, car loans and college costs. There will be credit cards and checking accounts to manage. The more financial knowledge we can gain, the better.

After a decade of people looking at their phones to play Candy Crush and Pokémon Go, I welcome a generation that just might be checking out their portfolio on a financial app. Unlike a generation ago, the stock market is now open for business to everyone. We should celebrate that. I am sure the 13-year-old version of me would have.

Randy Wheeless is a long-time member of the public relationships/communications community in greater Charlotte area and has family who live in Concord.

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