Neville Lala (20, IBCoM) has convinced all his EUR friends that they should start investing. “You can set up an account on the Rebellion app with just five euros and start investing in cryptos.”
For 23-year-old Business Administration student Janne Petrak, Lala’s enthusiasm is very familiar: “I started investing on the Trade Republic app in February together with my entire group of friends. It was so easy to arrange, and it seemed like a good way to spend my time, since I’m at home so much.”
Investing is immensely popular among young people and students. Recent Nibud and Raboank research showed that 42 per cent of young people in the Netherlands invest. According to AFM, the number of investing households increased by 11 per cent last year, with a large proportion of these new investors being under 30.
The report shows that over a quarter of young people is investing in cryptocurrencies. Of these, 31 per cent is investing traditionally in shares, bonds and funds. 10 per cent invests only in cryptocurrencies, while 25 per cent invests in both traditional and cryptos.
Auke Fokkema, treasurer of the student investment association B&R Beurs, thinks 42 per cent is quite reasonable. “But we are in a bubble. Everyone in our association invests. And that’s not so strange either, as students want to pay off their student loans. Having such a debt works against you. If you want to buy a house after studying, for example, you’ll immediately face problems with a mortgage application. You don’t want a false start. And it’s also great fun, and you earn something doing it.”
Chair of B&R, Hanz Matthee, began investing when he was seventeen. “I started by scouring companies’ annual reports so I could see which companies were doing well and where the growth was. It’s a huge advantage starting as young as possible. And having a good start means you’re better placed to build your portfolio. As American top investor Warren Buffet says: Rule No. 1: Never lose money. Rule No. 2: Never forget rule No. 1.”
20,000 euro lost
Fokkema added: “There’s also a very structural reason for investing. Dutch wages have risen by 20 per cent over the past ten years, while the S&P 500, the yardstick for American stock market performance, has grown by 250 per cent. Savings are no longer an option due to negative interest rates, and inflation is also rising. In other words, if you don’t want your assets to evaporate, you have to invest.”
Lala, who started investing when he was sixteen, used to obtain his information from internet platform Reddit: “I invested in companies that everyone on the forums was talking about. When things went well, it really got the adrenaline pumping. But I did learn my lesson when, for example, with Snapchat I lost 12 dollars a share, which amounted to a sudden loss of 20,000 euros. That taught me to be more careful.”
To prevent such losses, Matthee and Fokkema’s association focuses on increasing the knowledge of students who like investing. B&R has 1,850 members and 53 different fraternities. Members receive training from experienced investors during masterclasses and working groups where they learn about certain companies or funds. The fraternities also invest against each other competitively.
Not all students are like those at B&R in being so actively engaged in broadening their knowledge about investing. Nibud is not entirely positive about the knowledge of young investors in the Netherlands. When asked about risk diversification in the survey, 43 per cent gave the wrong answer and 18 per cent entered ‘I don’t know’. Nibud found that a worrying finding.
Researchers at Erasmus University have noted a lot of interest in investing but are concerned about the knowledge among student investors. Professors Mathijs van Dijk and Mary Pieterse-Bloem teach a course on investing.
Pieterse-Bloem: “Last year I asked students in a lecture hall to raise their hand if they were investing. Almost all hands were raised. The number of students investing in traditional currencies and cryptocurrencies was more or less the same.”
Van Dijk often discusses investing with students: “I feel like a boring uncle offering advice, but I’ve been with the same shares and funds for some fifteen years, so I often say to students: look at the long term. For students that’s not always a given.”
As she works for Rabobank, Pieterse-Bloem is not allowed to give investment advice, but she does discuss new market developments with her students. “I then talk about factors that are important for the shares they know something about. Above all, I encourage them to think for themselves. I then also outline various scenarios for how the central bank could respond to inflation and the economic effects of the omicron variant.”
Business Administration student Leonardo Durga has invested his maximum DUO loan in shares every month since 2018. “It’s the cheapest loan I’ll ever get. Why shouldn’t you use the returns from that for an investment that can change your life? That doesn’t seem crazy to me at all. It’s about consciously weighing up the risks. I discovered early on that I can handle a lot of risk and that in the long run I’ll recoup the loan I used for this investment.”
It’s also rather common for B&R student members to invest their DUO loan. Fokkema stated: “Many members invest the money from a DUO loan. The CDA recently wanted to prohibit that option, but apart from being something impossible to check, it also leads to more social inequality. If that were no longer possible, you would only be able to start investing if you have a rich mummy or daddy. The report also shows that only 2 per cent of investing young adults are in debt, compared with 5 per cent of young adults who do not invest.”
Van Dijk is concerned about this development: “By definition, investing borrowed money is often high risk, especially if you have few savings in addition to your DUO loan; then things can really take a bad turn.” Pieterse-Bloem agreed: “You should only invest money that you can afford to lose, otherwise it’s not wise.”
Durga started investing in crypto currencies when he was fifteen. “I’ve always been interested in how economic systems work, and I think our system is too reliant on debt. That’s why the value of investments fluctuate significantly, which is why I looked for something that would hold its value over time. That’s when I came across Bitcoin. I wanted to protect myself from a future where the value of money evaporates.”
He continued enthusiastically: “The great thing about cryptocurrencies is that you always know that the supply will stay the same. Products often don’t increase in value, the value of money decreases, and in that context Bitcoin is just a piggy bank. And there are also coins like Ethereum, where you no longer pay transaction fees, as transactions are automated. Newer cryptocurrencies such as Cardano and Polkadot also go for this new transaction method, which ensures they’ll also benefit from this new development. I really believe in the future of crypto.”
According to Durga, investors do understand the risks of the cryptocurrency market, but view this differently. “At some point I started making high-risk investments in emerging cryptocurrencies, and I’m currently investing 10 per cent in these. But I have friends who have invested all their money in cryptos. I notice that they think differently about money. They earned their money from this so they’re less disappointed if they suffer losses.” Durga has been diversifying his risk in recent years by investing in both traditional and cryptocurrencies.
However, the Nibud report does make various critical comments about cryptocurrencies. For young people it’s not always clear that rates fluctuate significantly. For Janne Petrak, that’s a reason not to invest in cryptocurrencies. But she also has other considerations: “I want to invest sustainably in green and social investment packages, otherwise known as ETFs. Cryptocurrencies aren’t always sustainable.”
Pieterse-Blom sees more people making this consideration. She focuses on sustainable investments in her course Fixed income and portfolio management. “With cryptocurrencies, you need to ask various fundamental questions. Is this really the money of the future when it’s not very sustainable and criminals trade heavily in it?” Pieterse-Bloem explains that mining crypto coins consumes vast amounts of energy.
From influence to information
According to Pieterse-Bloem, another problem with cryptocurrencies is that they legitimise speculation among a young audience, without there being advertisements or disclaimers on social media about the associated risks. That’s why she thinks it’s good that questions were recently submitted to Parliament about this and hopes that these will fuel the debate about stricter legislation on cryptocurrency advertising.
According to Van Dijk, the problem of younger people without a lot of knowledge being more likely to speculate in cryptocurrencies lies with popular podcast and YouTube stars. “It’s often not the issue that these self-appointed experts on such channels have no knowledge of cryptocurrencies. The problem is that these experts are also often people who have made huge profits with high-risk cryptocurrencies. Such winner-take-all stories are not representative of what can happen in reality. They keep the myth alive.”
According to Van Dijk, the fact that students don’t always realise the dangers of such investments is also a result of not being informed early enough: “It would be best to have a course in secondary school that teaches young adults to be self-sufficient in investing and to diversify their risks.”
Matthee from B&R would have been happy with such a course: “It’s just the basics. Just like having to learn to budget. As standard, young people should know something about investing before they start studying.”