The Hivemind Investors are at the forefront of these four key macro trends:
Democratizing the world of financial markets and investing
Challenging the status quo and dominance of professional investors
Extending the omnipresence of social media
Transforming personal finance into a sphere for community and collective action
The Hivemind Investors are those for whom social media drives investment decisions. On the surface, they appear to have a penchant for chaos and disruption. They’ve generated an entire retinue, rife with a culture of self-deprecation and a hyperbolic anti-establishment sentiment. While seemingly antagonistic, our research reveals that underlying their seemingly volatile behavior is a search for community, learning, and information equality as these newly minted investors dive into the world of retail investing.
In their DIY learning journeys, they’ve often leveraged online forums to make decisions based on popular trends and the instincts of the collective. Investing has become a way for them to find and build community, democratize financial markets and investing, and prove themselves capable of navigating the financial world. Through their sheer size alone, they have sway over the markets and will continue to have influence if their numbers continue to swell, but their ability to persist through more bearish market conditions remains to be seen. To win the hearts of this cohort at the forefront of the new wave of retail investing, firms should seek to understand the underlying needs and values that drive them and establish guardrails to protect their long-term financial health.
In January 2021, out of the stay-at-home orders and eroding memory of life before the pandemic, an unlikely community burgeoned. In one week, the WallStreetBets subreddit grew five times as Redditors rallied around stocks that the financial community had largely expected to falter. Through nihilistic humor and deliberate irrationalism, they encouraged each other to pump even more money into these seemingly arbitrary stocks, hold onto their investments with “diamond hands,” and reinforce the online community that they created. One of their rallying cries: “Apes together strong”. The reaction to Hivemind Investors was mixed. Many in the media portrayed them as the David to Wall Street’s Goliath. Others characterized them as though they were taking on capitalism itself. Some even castigated them as traitors to their country. A fair crowd called them idiots. But the instigation of the headlines belies a different story—most are high-earning, highly educated millennial and Gen-Z males. They are much more likely to be employed and working in white-collar jobs than the general population, lending an unexpected dualism to their character.
Because of who they are and how they invest, Hivemind Investors are a new animal, with a mess of contradictions and paradoxes to boot. Their mindset and behaviors are new, and they appear to have strong staying power. While it’s plausible that this new wave of retail investors will soon go the way of the dotcom-era dabblers, many of whom swore off stocks forever once the bubble burst, this group may be different.
They are more likely to persist because their flippant investments that are heavily publicized account for a smaller share of their portfolio than one would expect, some have witnessed multiple recessions and tremendous market volatility and have innovative community-based approaches to investing. They also skew more high-income and educated, and as our research reveals, they can be quite inventive (for example, through leveraging of community-based sharing of information) in their investing approach. That said, their occasional departure from fundamentals, coupled with their above average risk tolerance, may lead to the downfall of these less experienced investors.
"My friends were investing. The people I followed on Instagram were investing. I started to feel like I was missing out."
Like most others, Hivemind Investors felt disconnected during the pandemic. While others took those feelings as cues to call up old friends or go on Zoom dates, Hivemind Investors found connections online in anonymous communities. These investing communities presented an opportunity to become a part of something larger. Hivemind investors reported that personal and virtual communities inspired them to invest at about twice the general population's rate (or more). They also invested to capitalize on market opportunity – though not as a crucial source of income – and to a lesser extent, invested as a source of entertainment. However, one shortcoming of social media is that it failed to generate a genuine sense of community among the Hive. There is a blinding white space here and ample opportunity for organizations to unearth and create what makes these investors feel engaged on a deeper level.
"I know it's important to be diversified. I've dabbled in crypto, other stocks my friends have clued me into, ETFs. I'm thinking about buying some property before the end of the year."
Being an active Hive member requires a propensity for playing with fire, and their investment portfolios indicate this risk appetite. As the risk level of an asset declines, so might their stated interest. They are twice as likely to pursue "hot" assets suggested by social media, such as heavily shorted and volatile "meme stocks", cryptocurrencies and NFTs.
However, they also invest in more traditionally safe and more diversified investment vehicles, such as ETFs, fixed-income investments, and other tangible assets.
It is unclear whether this speculative position comes from their ability to afford taking risks or if they are simply more reckless than average. On the one hand, our data shows that Hivemind investors are generally more impulsive than the general population and less disciplined with their spending. On the other hand, Hivemind investors tend to be middle-high income, report that they only invest small amounts of money on these riskier assets, and maintain diversified portfolios.
"I have a buddy who is super into crypto and is generally more tapped into this whole world than I am. He clued me in to what was happening with GameStop right after Ryan Cohen joined the board. He told me about WSB [WallStreetBets], and I started following it. I bought some shares, and it was wild to see what happened just in that one month. It was surreal. I didn't fully believe it. Since it was my first time diving into investing in this way, I didn't go all-in. I don't know that I would have, even if I were as confident as my friend. I kept it reasonable. And I made a decent amount of money. Enough for a solid vacation once the pandemic eases up. But he made a lot. Enough to buy his apartment in Brooklyn."
“I got a mix of advice from friends and social media. Reddit was what got me started and made me feel like if other people could do it, so could I.”
For The Hive, technology is instrumental in empowering individuals to make independent investment decisions. Investing and cryptocurrency exchange apps such as Robinhood or Coinbase dominate their management toolbox, while social media provides inspiration and guidance for investment strategies. The Hive does not respect or see value in Wall Street - rightly or wrongly (experts would generally say wrongly), a large majority believe that they can score better returns than financial advisors.
"Bottom line, people are taking things into their own hands. The finance world will have to change if they want to keep up."
Hivemind Investors believe in their own agency and the power of collective action. Now that they have succeeded at becoming a market-moving collective, they will likely remain part of the zeitgeist. Skeptics will point to undeniable truths about investing: in a bear market, the most sophisticated investors typically score the biggest returns, and those who lose money may be inclined to drop out. Hivemind Investors are no strangers to these truths, yet they believe in the movement’s durability. Perhaps this is because they are not fully rational investors — motivated strictly by returns — and instead value investing for the other subjective benefits it brings them — namely, community, entertainment, activism, and learning. Or perhaps it is because over two-thirds say they only invest small sums of money that they would not mind losing. Another possibility is the novelty of the technology that they leverage is unlike any we have seen before, especially regarding free trading, fractional share trading, improved user interfaces, and connection speeds. Or perhaps their belief is just blind optimism.
"I think Wall Street needs to get taken down a notch, and I'm proud to have played a small part in shifting that balance of power."
One of the tensions within the Hive is their self-awareness about their impact and their apparent ambivalence toward it. The Hive is transparent about believing that large financial institutions are primarily hostile societal forces. They see their investment style as a form of activism and consider undermining hedge funds a public good. However, they also see their activities, such as WallStreetBets, the most prominent social investing movement, as potentially dangerous and believe such activity should be more heavily regulated. Here their dualism is apparent again — on the one hand, they see themselves as benevolent champions of the every-person against the dominant powers of capitalism; on the other hand, they acknowledge some of their own impulses as potentially destructive and believe they should be reined in.
“[The finance industry] will have to wake up. With the way people use the internet now and the rise of the metaverse, they’ll face a serious surge in common knowledge. The power held in the clutches of the mighty few is no longer arcane. People are waking up. It’s exciting.”
In the year since WallStreetBets first rose to fame, our survey shows that its proponents have largely persisted. They continue to believe in the movement, see value in participating in it, and think they will continue to participate in the future. The tenacity of the Hive suggests that financial institutions haven’t yet convinced a large swath of retail investors of the value inherent in professional financial advice and management. Are there retail market segments for whom new value propositions are needed? Perhaps ones that emphasize community, opportunities to learn, and self-determination?
Organizations that simply assume Hivemind Investors will fall by the wayside risk missing an important wave of change. Without taking this new breed of retail investors into account, some will find themselves out of touch with a meaningful segment of their potential market. Failing to take the emergent needs highlighted by the Hive seriously risks leaving opportunity on the table.
They are shaping the demand for products and services related to the future of retail investing.
While understanding the Hivemind Investors provides critical insights into the impact of retail investing, their consumption behaviors also have meaningful implications for organizations.
The Hivemind Investors are driving demand for:
- Fintechs that make retail investing easy and social. Hivemind Investors want a social investing experience, yet our data shows that only about 10% felt a sense of community through their investments. This presents an opportunity for organizations that can provide ways for people to connect in parallel to their investing experiences. This can include investing platforms that integrate social features, independent social networks for investing communities, ways for people to leverage their existing networks for investing, ways to coordinate investing with others, group investing services, and more.
- Investing education services. The Hive claims they’ve learned advanced investing strategies, but how advanced is advanced, exactly? Information access is the norm, and as people access retail investing, they seek out investment education. Those that begin to learn about investing through social media may look for more, deeper, and better information as they continue their retail investing journey. Many people are getting investing education online but find it difficult to differentiate between quality and sub-par information. There is an opportunity to develop services that qualify the caliber of advice.
- Alternatives to financial advisors. Technology has given retail investors tools, information, and advice once accessible only to professionals. Putting those raw materials to use in the optimal way is another matter, but for better or worse, many consumers at least feel they should be able to do everything a professional financial advisor can. Banks and investment providers need to evolve their offerings to stay relevant in a market where this new set of beliefs has taken root — whether that means empowering individuals to do more themselves, or better highlighting what differentiates professional services from what individuals can do on their own.
- Monitors of online communities for potential opportunities and threats. Firms that monitor social media can dynamically respond to efforts on social media that undermine their investment approaches. On the flip side, firms can generate potential upside value for clients if they can successfully understand the wills of these online groups and derive information value from that knowledge. Some firms are already hiring social media investment specialists, while others have begun to perform regular due diligence on social media.
- Newly democratized assets. The Hive are early adopters of these blockchain-powered assets, such as virtual real estate, digital art, and cryptocurrencies. These emerging assets have disruptive implications for the world of retail investing, especially as they continue to scale in value (as they have been over the past few years). For instance, 24/7 global trading, new investment types, reduction in settlement times, and lower trading costs are but a few examples of how this new class of assets are shaking things up.
As the Hivemind Investors continue to rewrite the investment rule book:
- How will you adapt to increasing levels of financial literacy and self-direction?
- What new guardrails should be in place to promote long term financial wellness of traders, who are embracing social media and taking a more active interest in investing their own assets?
- On the spectrum of chaos and order, how do you strike the right balance for this new wave of retail investors?