You had your best-laid plans and then COVID-19 came along and hammered the entire economy. But you’ve got this – if you have the right information. Join Rob Carrick and Roma Luciw on Stress Test, a podcast guiding you through one of the biggest challenges your finances will ever face.
ROB: Investing has been one of the biggest financial stories of the pandemic. There was the stock market crash in March 2020. Then a huge rebound. We’ve all heard about meme stocks and cryptocurrencies. So what does it mean for Gen-Z and millennials? Today’s episode is about what it’s been like to invest during the pandemic.
Welcome to Stress Test, a Globe and Mail podcast where we look at how the rules of personal finance have changed in the pandemic for Gen-Z, and millennials.
I’m Rob Carrick personal finance columnist at The Globe and Mail,
ROMA: And I’m Roma Luciw, personal finance editor at The Globe.
Rob, it’s our last episode of season three.
ROB: Yes. Who would have imagined when we started this, three seasons done in the pandemic. None of us have actually clapped eyes on each other for a second during this other than on Zoom and Squadcast and all these other cool podcasting apps we’ve done. What do you think of how it’s worked out for the past three seasons?
ROMA: I think this has truly been a pandemic podcast. I am not even sure that I could have ever envisioned any of this. So to say that I could have envisioned a pandemic would be a stretch, to say that I could have envisioned a pandemic podcast is an even bigger stretch. But, you know, I think that we’ve done incredible work. And I think it’s been actually a very exciting time to be talking about money, and some real changes for us to report on and talk about as journalists and financial journalists.
ROB: I’ve been covering personal finance for well over 20 years. And this past year has been by far the most dramatic, most incredible, the most surprising period. And I include the 08-09 financial crisis in that, which previous to this, I thought was the biggest show I’d ever seen, but that was wrong. The pandemic and what it’s done to money has just been a mind blowing experience.
ROMA: Absolutely. And I think the biggest thing for me, and I know for you as well, is hearing from our listeners. Getting feedback, them letting us know that they want to hear about this or that they like this element of what we talked about. And that’s been one of the most rewarding parts about our podcasts. And I really want to thank everyone that’s reached out to us, it means a lot and this podcast would not be possible without you.
So investing, let’s talk a little bit about what has undoubtedly been, as you’ve said, one of the biggest stories of the pandemic, this influx of young adults who have found their way into the stock market. Now, you and I have known for years when we go and we do our financial literacy type presentations at colleges and universities, that there has always been an interest, a high degree of interest about investing. I think the change that has happened during the pandemic has been them actually entering, starting to trade. And this has really taken off. So you’ve been writing about this for very many years, put this in perspective for us.
ROB: I have always seen investing as something primarily that boomers and retirees do. And a lot of young people were very interested in it and thought about it but didn’t really do it that much. After the 2008-09 financial crisis, the narrative about millennial investors was that they got scared by the market crash and they became super conservative, and they basically sort of got out of stocks. And I was amazed in March, April, May 2020, to see all these young people diving in, and I think it’s great. I think it has really broadened and democratized investing in a way I don’t think we could have even imagined 24 months ago.
ROMA: So Rob, what was it about this pandemic that led so many people to jump into investing?
ROB: Part of it was great instincts. I mean, when the market’s down you’re supposed to get in, and the historic investing experts all through the ages have said buy low, buy when there’s pain, and people did that. And it was exactly the right thing to do. But another aspect was new technology, you can now trade from your phone via no cost trading apps. There’s also online brokerages that you can use on your laptop, or on your desktop, or on your phone. I think technology has made it possible to trade anywhere. Another factor is people were at home during the pandemic, they were bored, they’re looking for drama, and the stock market had plenty of drama. It was like this combination of forces that created this phenomenon. I don’t think we’d ever see the likes of it again. But I’m really hoping that the investing habit will stick among young people.
ROMA: I mean, one thing that strikes me is that people that were homeowners had all this extra cash, they did a lot of things around their house. Young people that were not going to concerts and bars or restaurants or doing all that stuff, they’ve taken this money and put it into investing, and I think it’s such an interesting time to have gotten involved. And I say kudos to them, they’ve really taken steps in this direction. I’m curious to see what will happen in the coming months and years.
ROB: So with all this in mind, we did our usual call out to our listeners to get a sense of their investment stories and how they reacted to all the ups and downs during the pandemic.
ROMA: We actually got a lot of responses showing so many experiences...including some that we weren’t expecting.
ROB: Yeah, one of them caught my attention: a 15 year old investor who wrote to us wanting to share his story.
ROMA: It’s not everyday that we hear back from someone who’s 15. So we got in touch with him, and two other listeners to hear what they had to say about investing in general, but investing during the pandemic, specifically. You’ll hear more about that next.
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ROB: William is one of the listeners who wrote back to us. The subject line definitely stood out from the sea of emails, we got. It read: I am a young investor and I have read your article. Imagine my surprise when I open the email and it said he was 15 and he been investing for at least two years. The team all agreed, we had to get him on this episode.
Okay, William, I’m looking at the clock. And it’s about 9am and most kids your age are in school. What’s the story here?
WILLIAM: Well, I emailed in, because I saw an article on Young Investors, and I decided that I wanted to be on this podcast, because I thought that’d be really cool. So I emailed in, and my mom, excused me from school this morning.
ROB: You told me in an email, that you are 15 and you’re a veteran investor. And of course, that really got my attention, because I know people who are 25 and 35 and 45, who haven’t got the message about investing in stocks. How did you get started as such a young age being interested in the stock market?
WILLIAM: I was driving with my auntie Ray and I asked her what a stock was and she explained it to me and I was, I was kind of taken by that. Because I thought that was super cool that I could own like a tiny piece of a company and make money off of that.
ROB: You can’t really invest on your own because you’re 15 and the investment industry wants you to be of the age of majority, that means 18 or 19. So how are you getting around that?
WILLIAM: Well, it took me about a year of research because I started when I was 12. I started researching brokerages and like stocks to buy. And so, as soon as I convinced my mom that I wouldn’t lose all my money, she signed up for an account and we did about six months where I would tell her everything about every trade I was gonna make. And eventually I gained her trust, and she allowed me to start making trades on my own.
ROB: What’s the weirdest place you’ve ever made a stock trade using your phone?
WILLIAM: Oh, probably the school bathroom.
ROB: You know, what I have heard that, that is a trend trading from the bathroom so you’re not alone there. Now, you were investing for two years, that means you’ve seen quite a lot of action on the stock market. So I’m thinking back to March 2020, and the stock market goes from peak to valley, minus 33%. Very scary. I had experienced investors sending me emails that were almost panicky, in how much fear they were expressing. What was it like for you back then with your investing?
WILLIAM: Oh, well, I had gotten lucky before the COVID crash because I’ve been actually taking most of my investments out and cashing them out. Because I’m like, I was kind of scared because you know, it’s very kind of speculative at that point. Because I’d heard of COVID I’m like, this thing’s gonna be big. Right? And so I didn’t, my losses were very minimal.
ROB: Are you telling me you saw the crash coming and you got out of the market? That’s like most people didn’t pull that off?
WILLIAM: Mm hmm. Yeah. Yeah, I think it was just, it was just luck, right? I didn’t know when the crash was going to happen or anything and just kind of had a feeling.
ROB: Okay, so the crash happens, the market is way down. It’s in freefall. Tell me what you did next.
WILLIAM: I started pumping cash into my account, and started trying to kind of buy the dip with companies that I thought would you know, survive?
ROB: What’s your investing goal?
WILLIAM: My goal is retirement. I do make a lot of spreadsheets on retirement. But my goal here is to just have, you know, an emergency kind of kickback fund, or like some spare money to like, throw at something I want.
ROB: So you’re 15 and you’re talking about retirement. Let’s blue sky a bit. At what age do you think you might like to retire?
ROB: Okay, I thought you’re gonna tell me like 35 or something.
WILLIAM: Yeah, I’m not too interested in those, like, retire early things. I want to, like, make it you know, long over time and retire with a heap of money.
ROB : William, one of the trends that I as a personal finance columnist and investing writer have been thinking a lot about in the past year is how the stock market has opened up to all kinds of new people who never used to really be investors. And now we have thanks to new technology and the internet and, and all kinds of other new technological devices, we have a 15 -year- old getting into the market. Do you get a sense that the stock markets wide open to you and that it’s totally accessible to young people such as yourself?
WILLIAM: Um, no, I don’t. I don’t really get that sense. Because, you know, there’s obviously the age factor, right? You have to be 18 to invest yourself, but I don’t feel that we’re getting enough education on the subject yet, either.
ROB: What would you like to see?
WILLIAM: I’d like to see finance taught from kindergarten. I think that’d be very important because you know, in the system we live in, financial education is vital to your future, right?
ROB: What would be the number one lesson you’d like to teach those kindergarten kids about money?
WILLIAM: Just basic savings, right? You know, don’t spend all your money - saving is very important.
ROB: What about your peers? If you could give them one lesson - 15 year olds are looking ahead to college and university in a few years, what’s the best lesson you could give them about investing in money?
WILLIAM: Start young is the most important one for me. Starting at 18 versus like 30, there’s a huge difference in the long run because of compound interest, right? If you start at 18, and you, say, you retire at 65, if you just put in like $200 a month into a mutual fund with about, I think it’s 9% returns, then over time, you’ll retire with six times more than if you start at the age of 35. So starting young would be my number one thing to teach them.
ROB: All right there you got it - 15 year old William explaining how to make money in the stock market.
ROMA: Rob, what are your two cents on William?
ROB: William is going to conquer the world. This guy is a very all around young man and included in his skills as being a smart, savvy investor. At 15, he’s like got the same level of skills as a lot of 55 -year - old Globe mail readers I’ve come across. I say go, William! What about you? What do you make of him?
ROMA: My 13-year-old is marginally interested in saving and learning about mortgages and credit cards, but he sure is interested in learning about investing. So I suspect this is something that’s going to become increasingly interesting to young adults, and I think William is paving the way forward.
Something we talked a lot about when coming up with this episode was that investing for a long time has been dominated by men and wealthy people. But that’s changing. It’s estimated that by 2026, women will control half of the personal wealth in Canada. I spoke to a young woman who’s been investing for a while to get her perspective on all this. That’s up next.
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ROMA: Eva is 29, lives in Toronto and works in tech. She wrote to us about her experience investing during the pandemic. I asked her how she began investing.
Let’s talk a bit about how you first got involved in investing. How did you find your way into this world?
EVA: Growing up, in a single parent household, in an immigrant family we didn’t ever - money was always just like, you just squirrel it, you know, at best. And my dad who was our parent, our single parent, he lost money in Nortel and then was kind of like, you know, the stock market’s ‘the worst thing on earth, stay away from it’, type of thing. So a lot of my own education around investing and finance in general, was kind of just self-learned and self-taught just out of interest in my early 20s. And I didn’t really get into executing on the kind of automated ongoing investing until Wealthsimple in 2015. Back then, they were a much, much smaller team and I grew up in the startup tech scene. So he came and did a lunch and learn gave us free food. And we’re like, alright, we’ll sit through your half an hour presentation for some free pizza.
ROMA: Okay, so tell me about your approach, you needed to obviously have some money to start investing. How did you set that up? Did you have a chunk set aside? Or did you start doing an automatic deposit? And how did you decide how to proceed?
EVA: Yeah, so initially, I seeded it with $500, and it was a small amount, month over month. So I wanted to do automated payments of $500 each month. And at the time that probably made up like on a monthly basis, like 15 to 20% of my income probably closer to 20.
ROMA: Okay, so $500 for a 22-year-old is incredibly impressive.
EVA: Yeah, thanks.
ROMA: Just to be clear. That is a sizable chunk of change. I’m assuming that you probably had your finances in pretty good condition to be able to do that, like you weren’t paying off massive student loans or something along those lines. But that’s a very impressive amount of money to be sending away at a young age.
EVA: Thanks. Yeah, I did have a student loans, but they weren’t crazy. I was paying like $400 a month towards student loans each month.
ROMA: Okay, so you’ve decided to set aside the $500 a month at the beginning, how did you decide how to proceed with investing?
EVA: It was a matter of just like setting it and forgetting it and then at each kind of inflection point in which my income increased, I tried to make if not more so, like a larger ratio of my income going towards the saving and investing.
ROMA: Okay, and you use robo advisor for all of this money?
EVA: Yes. So, I would say I have a 90/10 approach. So 90% of all my of my savings and investing goes towards the research backed, you know, kind of proven in academia sort of approach which is low cost, automated, diversified portfolio through a robo advisor. And the other 10% is kind of, you know, fun money.
ROMA: Okay, what is the 10% invested in?
EVA: It’s invested in a range of things. I mean, I bought Air Canada in sort of, the troughs of 2020. That’s an example.
ROMA: How often do you check your investments?
EVA: That’s a good question. Maybe, like, once a week.
ROMA: Okay. And what’s the mechanism? Are you doing it on your phone? How do you look at it?
EVA: Yeah, just on my phone, I have all the apps sort of loaded into my phone. So I’ll usually go from there.
ROMA: I’m curious, where someone who is starting off investing, or someone who’s even been doing it for a little bit of time - where do you find this information? Do you go anywhere online?
EVA: I think when I first started, I didn’t think there was a ton of resources that were easy to consume, and specifically written or created for the Canadian market. I think that’s changed over the last number of years. And I mean, I love the Rational Reminder, podcast, and what Ben Felix and Cameron has been doing over there and producing Canadian specific content that other people all over the world listen to, and then have to interpret, you know, for their own lens, which I think is incredible.
ROMA: Are you on any online chat groups? You know, there was a huge wave of young investors that got started on Reddit, WhatsApp… are you getting any information through there?
EVA: Yeah, I’m getting information through the Rational Reminder community, it’s more of a discord than it is Reddit. I do have this kind of smaller kind of startup tech, Toronto investor group that someone I knew kind of put together. I’ve mostly just done a lot of consuming.
ROMA: You’re someone that has been investing since 2015, so you have seen what a severe downturn looks like when stocks crashed back in March 2020. And it sounds like you were prepared. Did you have that moment of panic when you first saw it and that sinking feeling in your stomach? Or were you ready for it?
EVA: Yeah, in investing, and also just in life, I’m very risk taking, like, go scuba diving, I jump out of planes, all the rest And so my investing, yeah out of 10 - a 10 in terms of portfolio risk. And yeah, I mean, given my personality, given my age, I think it, that matches, and I think there’s what you believe your risk tolerance is. And then I think there’s what happens when, or what had happened, like back in March of 2020. For the first time, for a lot of people in my age group, there’s one thing to say, hey, I’m going to be totally fine if my portfolio gets cut by 30%. And then there’s what you actually do when your portfolio gets cut by 30% in March of 2020. And in retrospect, it was the bottom of the market. But I didn’t know that obviously, at the time. So I had a couple thousand dollars sort of just sitting on the side, I doubled down on sort of my contributions that month, which paid off really well. But yeah, the portfolio was cut by like 30%, roughly.
ROMA: What’s the purpose of this money? How long do you have it invested for and what’s your goal for it?
EVA: That is a great question. So I’m, invested as a nest egg for retirement, the majority of it. I’m a renter, a very proud renter. I, in theory could probably stretch my finances and buy you know, a condo or whatever it is. But based on the numbers, based on I think my capacity, and design to save, and based on my lifestyle to be quite frank. I used to travel six months of the year. I’ve been working remotely for six years. So this isn’t, a new thing for me as it is I know for a lot of people. So the best version of remote work that I love is the one where you can be working from South Africa or be working from New Zealand and in a in a van or be working from home in Toronto, right? This version where we’re all sort of locked inside, is unfortunately, the version that everyone has seen, but there’s many other versions of it. So it never made sense to me to own a place and have all the costs that are obviously related to maintaining, a home.
ROMA: And being tied down to a mortgage. But I’m curious what does your dad or your family, what do they think of this investing choice that you’ve made?
EVA: Yeah, so my dad is an Asian immigrant. And there’s two things that he’ll always ask me at the beginning of every time he sees me, which is, are you getting married? And when are you going to buy a house? He has, I think, a bunch of confusion around why I don’t make certain choices. Like why do I choose to rent when you know, I could be putting that money towards a down payment. But I think there’s a level of respect, and ‘hey, I don’t get it, but it seems like you can take care of yourself’.
ROMA: Okay. So since the pandemic started, there has been a wave of people that have gotten involved in investing. As a woman of color, as an immigrant, all these things that would point to someone like you not being an investor in a traditional sense, not who we envision is in the market traditionally, but perhaps this is the type of person now that’s getting into the market increasingly. Do you feel that some of the barriers to investing have fallen? Are you seeing more people jumping into the market?
EVA: Yeah, just in my own peer group, if I’m talking about sort of my core group of like, six friends, all of us have sort of varying degrees of fluency, as it relates, to investing. And most of us actually are, you know, people of color. Women in particular, tend to feel like finances isn’t their thing. Of the people, the forums, the WhatsApp groups, you know, all those kinds of things that I’m in, like, 90% of those people are men. And so I think, for whatever reason, if it’s social norms, or scripts or whatever that has come in, to those outcomes, I think it’s just important for women to understand that like, hey, this is not, this is not a male thing, per se, like this is a human thing. This is a human thing, that I think you should spend as much time just getting comfortable in, for your own finances. Because it’s important. I think it’s really important in terms of how you choose to invest both like capital, your time, etc. And also like the possible outcomes that you can have, as a person, sort of, you know, into your future.
ROMA: Thanks so much for joining us, Eva. I think your comments were so valuable, and I think they’ll inspire a lot of young women to get into investing.
EVA: The pleasure is mine, Roma, thanks.
ROMA: Rob, Eva took a different approach using a robo advisor as her main driver. She does do a little bit of investing on the side. What do you think of that approach?
ROB: Big thumbs up. I’m a big fan of robo advisors. I think they are a big problem solver for investors who want a low cost, sound, well executed, investing approach with help from experts. You give a robo advisor money, they put it into your nicely diversified portfolio. I think they are a big solution to problems. I wish they were more popular and I think they are good for young and old investors.
ROMA: So Eva describes herself as a risky person. But in my mind, she has done all of the right things, before she started investing.
ROB: You know, I think we cannot over-stress the importance of having an emergency fund before you start jumping into the stock market. You need to - we’ve discussed this and Stress Test in quite a few different instances - the importance of having money to fall back on if there’s a sudden emergency, the pandemic is only one example. So have at least a few $1,000 preferably, you know, 3, 6, 9 months worth of expenses parked safely in a savings account. Then, go on to your investing, because investing is not an emergency fund. A stock market crash can start peeling back your investment gains in a flash. You need safe money. Once that’s covered off, then you move on to investing.
We have one more person we’re going to hear from. Stephen is 29. And he lives in Toronto. He’s a freelance musician and he’s been investing since he was 17. I started asking him about how he reacted when the crash in March 2020 happened.
What is it like investing during the pandemic? And I want you to start with the big crash of March 2020.
STEPHEN: Yeah, it’s been quite an adventure. So when in March as I saw the seriousness of the pandemic really begin, I saw my own investments start to tumble. And I had seen almost a little over a decade’s worth of saving, you know, go from pretty modest gains into negative numbers. Just knowing that things always seem to recover, no one had any idea of what that was going to be like. So on the onset of it was to just see diligent saving, you know, pretty boring stuff over a decade start to disappear was disheartening to say the least.
ROB: Okay, so here you are, you’re watching these long held investments starting to melt away on you. But then you took action. Tell us what you did?
STEPHEN: I just took as much cash as I had on hand and as I saw the market crashing and crashing, crashing, I just kept treating it like it was a once in a lifetime dip buying opportunity, and I put as much cash as I could into the, I guess the safest investments I thought I had in my portfolio.
ROB: One of my theories is that the pandemic has sort of democratized investing and sort of opened it up to people who might not have done it before and they’ve had a lot of success. Now, you’ve been investor for a long time, but do you find yourself and friends of yours getting more interested in investing sort of seeing the upside of it, because of the pandemic, because of the stock market gains, because you’ve been at home and it’s easy to trade, because there’s all kinds of new technology for trading and trading apps and all that sort of thing? Has this sort of been a trading heyday for you?
STEPHEN: So for me personally, in the past year and a half, this is the most I’ve ever traded. Pre pandemic, it was maybe four to eight trades a year, and in the past year, yeah, a lot more activity and a lot more monitoring. And I also noticed, yeah, some people that were my age around me, either getting into it, and also in in ways that I never entertained. It was almost like too polished and flashy looking. I want my banking to be pretty boring and reliable looking.
Give us a sense of the kind of gains you had in your portfolio during the pandemic compared to your pre pandemic days. Give us some juicy details.
STEPHEN: So in terms of in terms of percentage, we’re talking like maybe like 15, 20%, increase, and then to fall to a 15 to 20% negative number, and now sitting out that, you know, 35 ish percent in gains.
ROB: Stephen, what are your thoughts on the inevitable stock market downturn? I mean, one of the criticisms that’s made of young investors today is that they’re running around acting like their stock market geniuses, because everything they do is going up. But of course, everything is going up. There’s a bull market and everything right now. You have a longer term perspective - what is your sense of the next downturn, when it might come of what you’re doing to prepare for it?
STEPHEN: You’re right, everything has been going up and I don’t think there’s too much unique about my, my scenario. What I’m hearing more and more about, and I think what we’re all concerned about is what’s going to happen as we exit the pandemic, and then worries about inflation. And so I’m preparing for that, looking at, you know, bond ETFs, things like that the things that are as secure as possible.
ROB: What are your investing goals? I mean, a lot of people say I’m investing for retirement investing for my kid’s education, I’m investing for, you know, some other big life goal. You’re a young man, you’ve got a long, long life ahead, is it retirement that you’re investing this money for, or something more near term?
STEPHEN: So one of the main reasons I got into investing so early was because I knew I wanted to be a freelance musician. And knowing that, I also knew that there would be no company pension plan. So who is going to save for my retirement? Well, it’s gonna be me. So the, the goal was always to have a self supplied retirement plan in place and also having some kind of emergency fund. So the long term has always been retirement. It would be wonderful if I had enough saved for a down payment on a house. But in the past month or so, I’ve come to terms with maybe just renting forever.
ROB: Stephan, thanks so much.
STEPHEN: Yeah, thank you so much for having me.
ROMA: So, Rob, what are your takeaways for this episode
- One, start investing as soon as you can. Get on a regular program where you make contributions to your investments every time you get paid, and do that for decades.
- Two, start small with a robo advisor if you’re worried about your money. Robo- advisors for a very reasonable cost, provide solid help for new and established investors.
- Three, use trusted sources of information if you’re going to do it yourself. Internet forums are one thing, but you want to cross check 2, 3, 4 times with other sources of information.
ROMA: Thank you for listening to Stress Test.
This show was produced by Latifa Abdin and Hannah Sung.
Audio post production by Kyle Fulton and Carlay Ream-Neal.
Our executive producer is Kiran Rana. Thank you, William, Eva and Stephen for sharing your stories with us.
ROB: If you like what you heard, let the world know. Leave us a rating and review at Apple podcasts.
ROMA: You can find Stress Test at Apple podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, or your favorite podcast app. And you can find us at theglobeandmail.com where we cover all things financial. And if you want season four, let us know. Rob and I might even be able to do some talking face to face. Thanks for listening.