One spring morning in New York City’s Financial District, several besuited men couldn’t help but stop and gaze at a rather out-of-place sign hanging from the New York Stock Exchange building. “Follow us on Pinterest!” read the enormous red banner. A few weeks later they stopped again, this time in front of a yellow sign reading, “Follow us on a Snapchat!”
These promos are the handiwork of Matthew Kobach, the digital and social media manager at the NYSE. A former social media lecturer at Indiana University, Kobach was hired three years ago to, among other things, help make the dense, complex, and frankly boring world of stocks more approachable, specifically to millennials. And in 2018, that means social media.
“I don’t think people expect the New York Stock Exchange to have thorough material on Snapchat or Pinterest, but if those are channels a younger audience values, it’s where we are going to put together great educational materials,” Kobach says. “We want to pull back the curtain and demystify financial concepts.”
While social media might be a go-to destination for people in their 20s and 30s, the stock market isn’t. It’s been a decade since the Great Recession, and even though the demographic wasn’t hurt personally, millennials are still scared of the stock market — hence the rise of cryptocurrencies.
But Kobach can think of ways to whet their appetite online. The Pinterest page of the NYSE, for example, has boards like “financial literacy,” with pinned infographics on the different types of stocks and how the stock market works. But there’s also one called “VIPs at the NYSE” that features photos of celebrities like DJ Khaled, Adriana Lima, and Jessica Simpson visiting the floor. Publicly traded companies often have celebrities as investors or faces of the brand, and so the NYSE has relatively unfettered access to big names.
“We see it as sugar with medicine,” Kobach explains. “If we can interview a celebrity for 60 seconds on Snapchat and that gets someone interested in the financial markets, then so be it. A-Rod has some really good investment advice that some CEOs couldn’t even give!”
The NYSE has been beefing up its social media presence over the past year. It’s not the only one trying to make investing simple and sexy. Over the past few years, several startups have sprouted up with the same intention. They aren’t selling finance; they are selling the idea of finance.
Ten years after the worst financial crisis in history, researchers at Deloitte have concluded that young professionals today have a “general distrust in financial institutions,” and it’s no wonder: Many millennials were in college or working their first jobs when they watched the American economy crash and burn. Few had firsthand experience with the stock market, and in the decade since, they’ve stayed away, even with all the seemingly good news that the economy is safe once again.
Market research from Facebook found that millennials feel investment banks are like “used car salesmen,” and financial advisers have complained for years that young people won’t hire them. The business intelligence company RFi Group found that when it comes to personal data, there’s more public trust in companies like PayPal and Amazon than in banks. (This study was done, perhaps not so coincidentally, during the Wells Fargo scandal.)