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Youthquake: How will we invest $42 trillion?

Australians were asked vote in the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey whether the current laws should allow same-sex marriage. Image: Getty
Australians were asked vote in the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey whether the current laws should allow same-sex marriage. Image: Getty

It’s 10am on Wednesday, 14 November 2017.

In workplaces around the country, colleagues spin away from their computers to watch the TV as Australian history is made.

They wait to hear the answer to the question: “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?”

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The answer, as Australian Bureau of Statistics statistician David Kalisch relays, is incredibly clear.

61.6 per cent of Australians are for. Only 38.4 per cent are against.

The vast majority of Australians believe same-sex couples should have the right to wed.


Immediately, there are tears, proposals and joyous phone-calls to loved ones. Some pop the champagne, while others go back to work. A few join the hordes of revellers celebrating on the streets.

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It was, as then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull remarked, an overwhelming call for marriage equality.

And, it was largely driven by younger voters. The Australian Electoral Commission revealed that of the 800,000 Australians who enrolled to vote between 30 June and the vote day, nearly two thirds were under 40.

An Australian ‘youthquake’

The world witnessed youth rise up against gun violence in America, protectionism in the UK, and now Australia was having its moment.

“It’s important from a democratic perspective to really understand that collectively, this generation represents a very significant and important group,” said Rocky Scopelliti, former Telstra executive and author of Youthquake 4.0: A Whole Generation and the New Industrial Revolution.

It was nothing short of a “youthquake”, he said, a term crowned 2017’s Word of the Year by Oxford Dictionaries.

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“The second thing is that there are economic reasons as to why we need to be really focused in on Millennials.”

The thing is, Millennials vote with their money. And they’re about to have a lot of it.

Youth set to inherit $42.3 trillion

Millennials are poised to inherit US$30 trillion (AU$42.3 trillion) within the next 30 years, according to PWC as the Baby Boomers begin to transfer their wealth.

That’s a lot of money.

The question is, what will this generation do with it?

“The research is showing that organisations that pursue diversity strategies are economically outperforming their competitors and peers across many industries,” Scopelliti said.

Also read: MYTHBUSTER: ‘Investing ethically gets you worse returns’

This is significant for two reasons. First, Millennials are more likely to work for diverse companies and are also the best equipped to take those companies forward.

Secondly, “As investors, Millennials are also acutely aware that organisations that have diversity as policies are outperforming their competitors and peers across many industries. So as an investor, diversity is an attribute or characteristic they will increasingly look for in the organisations they choose to invest in.”

Companies are leaning into this, offering investments catering to gender equality, and moving beyond, to investments targeting clean water, renewable energy and innovation.

“You can absolutely see a lot of fintechs also coming up with solutions – investment solutions that provide options for where a Millennial’s assets can be invested,” the futurologist said.

One of these fintechs is Zuper, a start-up hoping to disrupt the $2.6 trillion superannuation sector.

We want to feel good about something

Zuper offers its customers – largely Millennials – the option to invest in health research, green energy and tech companies, while excluding investments in tobacco and nuclear weapons.

CEO and co-founder Jessica Ellerm said yesterday that the fund plans to launch another option, a diversity fund focusing on companies prioritising female leadership and cultural diversity.

Also read: 5 ways to make money while saving the planet

She explained that in the lead up to Zuper’s launch, they spoke to thousands of young Australians.

It was upsetting to find that so few young Aussies knew how to make money outside of property. Worse, most young Aussies felt they wouldn’t even be able to afford property.

The question of Zuper came down to; how do you reframe superannuation and make them feel good about something?

“They should feel good about their super because they actually have a decent amount saved in their super,” Ellerm said at a Mercer event in Sydney. “And [they should feel good about] what they could do with it to actually change the world they live in.

“We have this big cultural divide in society where we have a lot of young people going, ‘I can’t believe people don’t get climate change, I can’t believe people don’t get gender equality, what’s there not to get?’ They look at government and some of the more senior people in society and go, ‘Why are we still having this conversation?,” she said.

“So now what we’re seeing is it’s connected back into lots of purchasing decisions young people make and one of those purchasing decisions, which is a huge one, is their super.”

Also read: Why I left private equity to focus on impact investing

They’re pushing it forward

The world’s biggest asset manager, BlackRock recently threw its weight behind sustainable investing, citing Millennial appetite. Closer to home, ETF provider, BetaShares said younger investor interest could see ETFs become the “natural vehicle” for ethical investing.

Younger investors make up nearly a third of investors keen to try out ETFs, according to BetaShares, with CEO Alex Vynokur noting BetaShares was prompted to learn more about ethical and sustainable investments.

Just last week an app targeting Millennials’ appetite for ethical investment launched, backed by managers from major firms like BlackRock and Stone & Youngberg. The app, Newday Impact Investing is designed to channel more money into “good companies”, the CEO, Doug Heske told Forbes.

Believe it or not, Millennials do think long term

Oft-maligned for lavish lifestyles, decadent brunches and poor investing habits, Millennials can get a poor rap in the media and by other generations.

A 2016 piece by social commentator and demographer, Bernard Salt was one example. In a satirical piece for The Australian, Salt made a tongue-in-cheek suggestion that Millennials would be able to afford a home sooner if they abstained from weekly cafe breakfasts of smashed avocado on toast.

It set off a landslide of social media responses, thought pieces and inter-generational debates.

There’s a certain irony, then, that Salt is now defending Millennials.

“I think the Millennial generation do think long term,” he said on Wednesday at the same Mercer event.

“They can, it’s just not in financial planning; it’s in climate issues. If you think of it, they are absolutely wedded to that issue. They understand it, they get it, they advocate for it, they are activists for it and they are prepared to make sacrifices now to protect the planet in the longer term.”

He argued society needs to learn from the environmentalists’ playbook: “Think global, act local.”

“Think retirement, think long term, think future security, act local, act in the present. So I think they do buy that big [wealth] picture but it needs to be sold as a civic contribution, as the right thing to do, as a moral thing to do, as opposed to a selfish thing to do.”