Software and the Internet have transformed and democratized many industries over the last two decades, but the financial services industry remains in the dark ages. The Great Recession was just a reminder that despite the “brilliance” of the global financial complex, most people suffer from a lack of access, transparency and independence when it comes to financial products and services.
Access in the finance world has long been restricted to a relatively small group of people. I’m one of those – I know how the system works because of my work experience, my educational background, curiosity, and the friends and family I’ve been exposed to. But most people don’t have that kind of access or insight. I’ve asked people from all walks of life – smart people, accomplished people, people with regular jobs making an honest living, the financially well-to-do and those who can barely make ends meet — how they would go about buying stock in a public company, and I typically get blank looks and wandering answers. I’m sure they could figure it out eventually, but the learning curve is steep, and simply unaffordable in terms of both time and money.
The system has failed a majority of people because there is simply too much friction. You have to go to a physical or online brokerage, fill out lots of complicated forms, and deposit a few thousand dollars just to get started. And if you aren’t an adult, you have no meaningful visibility into or engagement with your account. If online, you then stare at complicated screens designed for sophisticated trader types. It can be an absolutely terrifying experience, especially now that we are used to simple and delightful user experiences like Amazon, Facebook and Google. You have to buy whole number of shares usually in large quantities. And pay big fees. So most people simply do not invest in stocks. According to a recent Federal Reserve study it is estimated that less than 14 percent of Americans have direct stock investments – this in America, the nation that is the vanguard of modern capitalism, democracy, and liberty! A huge portion of the population is missing out on a significant engine of wealth creation. This trend could only get worse with the millennial generation, which isdemonstrating an aversion to traditional investment methods.
At Mayfield, we believe financial literacy is core to enabling true democratization of our financial system. And learning about investing should be the right of everyone, everywhere and anytime, and it should start as early as possible in someone’s life. Democratization happens only if everyone has equal access to information and services. The transformational power of access is a deeply held belief of mine. I didn’t have a financially privileged life growing up, but I had access to education and opportunity, and this made everything possible. And we all know that when people have access, they are able to achieve beyond what they think their natural capacity is.
Providing access has to start with reforming the investment process, which is itself a major barrier – it’s rife with friction and unnecessary economic barriers. Technology can change this, just like it has in so many other industries. And there is reason to be optimistic by what we’re seeing from financial technology entrepreneurs. Most important, the innovations we’re seeing are not focused on making the financial services complex more profitable by squeezing out every ounce of profit, but rather enabling the masses to have fairer, cheaper and transparent access to banking, credit and investment products and services.
We’re very excited to partner with Avi Lele, Dan Schatt, Michael Feser and their team at Stockpile. Avi co-founded Stockpile following frustrating attempts to give his kids, nieces and nephews stock in their favorite brands. He not only wanted to start his kids on the path of financial literacy, he has made it his mission to do so for everyone. To make this possible, Avi gave up his equity partnership at a major law firm and toiled for more than three years without pay. He secured the necessary approvals from the SEC and FINRA, assembled a world class team, built a brokerage operation, created an awesome product and signed key distribution partnerships.
Stockpile removes the friction from the process of buying stocks, making it easy and affordable for anyone to give, get and own stock in any dollar amount. Their key innovation is to use the well-understood and flexible consumer format of gift cards as the delivery system for stocks in a fixed dollar amount that can be purchased in a physical store or online. And gift cards are just the start – they’ve built the brokerage for the 21st century; a platform that financial institutions, loyalty companies, employee benefits companies, retailers, and fintech providers can leverage to offer Stockpile services to their own customers.
Avi and team have made buying stock as easy as buying a gallon of milk at the grocery store. Now everyone can learn and participate in the world of investing, ushering in an era of financial literacy that has the potential to profoundly transform the world.
This post originally appeared on LinkedIn Pulse