Adults aren't the only ones taking stock of online-investment opportunities. Cyber investing and planning for it have become child's play, too.
While the piggy bank and first bank account remain staples in starting young consumers on the savings road, the Internet has become key in getting them interested in piling up interest.
Consumer and financial industry groups, securities regulators and educators are reaching out to young people with online educational tools (special websites, webinars, mock investment programs, investment clubs, to name a few) to help raise their money-managing IQs, curb their debt and get them into investing mode.
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"One of the concerns we have with our young people is there isn't an opportunity for them to learn to manage their own investments," says Duncan Hannay, managing director, head of online brokerage for the Bank of Nova Scotia, referring to the fact most provinces don't make financial literacy a part of the curriculum.
"My own 16-year-old daughter can speak confidently about a company's balance sheet, but has little understanding of her own balance sheet. It's a fundamental challenge we have with young people, not focusing on it early enough."
Given young people's insatiable online habits, cyber-investing education makes sense - and the more parents are involved the better, Mr. Hannay says from his Toronto office.
An Ipsos-Reid survey of 4,466 respondents that was commissioned by Telus and released in September suggests that three-quarters of Canadian children in families who use the Internet are proficient on it by age seven.
"Young people are very savvy, quite capable of multi-tasking, and are very connected, so the online space and transacting online is not foreign or daunting to them whatsoever," Mr. Hannay says. "They can easily adopt the online tools available to them to manage their own online investments."
Paula Carello's sons, Anthony, 12, and Corey, 9, have been saving in the piggy banks she made them out of water-cooler jugs since they were toddlers. But it wasn't until the family got hooked on online account-managing and investing education that they started to gain real financial know-how.
Ms. Carello, an aesthetics expert who works in Toronto, says she has Registered Education Savings Plans (RESPs) for both her sons, and shows them online how their accounts are growing. She has also started a Tax-Free Savings Account (TFSA) for Anthony, a Grade 7 French immersion student at Julliard Public School in Vaughan, Ont., and they go online monthly to move money from Anthony's savings account to his TFSA. Anthony can't start his own online investment account because you must 18 or older to do so.
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For his part, Anthony and most of his 30-some classmates are addicted to a couple of popular investment-oriented Facebook applications, including FarmVille, a game that allows online users to create their own farms, and buy seeds and harvest them - all in a virtual world.
Anthony says FarmVille, which can also be followed on Twitter, teaches him the finer points of growing both crops and, as a result, his money.
"I like how it makes me feel, like I own my own business," says the ambitious preteen. "It teaches me how to manage money and how fast you can both make and lose money."
Tom Hamza, Toronto-based president of the non-profit Investor Education Fund, which was established by the Ontario Securities Commission, says teaching kids about investments they can relate to is key to gaining their interest and trust.
"Rising post-secondary education costs have made RESPs a popular option among Canadians," Mr. Hamza says. "Involving your kids in the investments behind this RESP is a great way to show the value of long-term saving and investing. It also is a good opportunity to show the life stages of investing, and the difference in the risk that you might have 10 years before an RESP is expected to be used versus the risk two years before it is used."
He adds: "Opening an account, even a sub-account from your own primary account, with money that you manage with your child, is a great way to get them to learn about investing."
However, "you don't want them to be unsupervised or you might find yourself with a portfolio that is strongly weighted towards toy and confectionery companies."
Ainsley Cunningham, a Winnipeg-based spokeswoman for the Canadian Securities Administrators, agrees young people may tend to research investment opportunities in consumer goods and services they relate to, such as video games, electronics, entertainment and clothing.
"So when they're out with their friends, they can say, 'I have stock in that,' " she says.
While figures on the number of young Canadians interested in or participating in online investing are hard to come by, the website for the CSA-sponsored "Financial Fitness Challenge" in February received 37,970 visits from young people who used the educational games, tips and interactive activities. The contest was entered by 13,702 youths 15 to 21 years old who completed an online quiz, with 12 young people each winning a $750 scholarship. The CSA says only 30 per cent of participants surveyed were very interested in personal finance before finishing the online challenge, but that rose to 62 per cent after the contest ended.
Many of the online efforts aimed at young people serve another purpose: to help curb their credit-card, student loan and other debt, Mr. Hamza and Ms. Ainsley say.
The CSA, the voluntary umbrella organization of Canada's provincial and territorial regulators, recently launched "Make It Count: A Parent's Guide to Youth Money Management," an interactive mentoring program and information resource. The IEF's online youth-education arsenal includes "Funny Money" videos that track spending and provide education about credit cards and building wealth.
Kevin Press, assistant vice-president of Canadian marketing for Sun Life Financial in Toronto, says teenagers interested in online investing should sign up for the Canadian securities course.
"It'll get your son or daughter reading the financial pages in a very different way, and give them a deeper understanding of what they're getting into."
WHERE TO GO
There's no shortage of online investment tools, applications and programs to get young people into money-managing gear. Here are just a few Canadian resources:
Your Money: One-stop online tool, published by the Canadian Bankers Association, that presents financial information for young Canadians. ( http://www.yourmoney.cba.ca)
Investor Education Fund: Non-profit, unbiased source for information and tools that help consumers make better investing and money-managing decisions. Established by the Ontario Securities Commission. ( http://www.investored.ca)
Canadian Economy Online: A one-stop guide to the national economy where students can learn more about economic concepts, key indicators and how they work, the relationship of government and the economy. ( http://www.canadianeconomy.gc.ca)
Canadian Consumer Information Gateway: Information is organized by consumer type (including young consumers), product or service, and issue (pyramid schemes, identity theft). ( http://www.consumerinformation.ca)
Canadian Securities Administrators: Umbrella group for securities regulators from the 10 provinces and three territories. Online educational tools for young people include Make it Count: A Parent's Resource for Youth Money Management, investing guides and a Financial Fitness Challenge for ages 15 to 21. ( http://www.securities-administrators.ca)