While the internet has radically reshaped many sectors of the economy, it is only now that financial markets are being significantly affected.
As financial markets continue to make news headlines through the meteoric rise of Bitcoin or the GameStop short squeeze, and as interest rates remain at historic low rates, financial investment is turning mainstream.
A Facebook Group called The Investment Hub – Malta, aims to ensure enthusiasts do not get burned, helping promote financial literacy through videos, Q&As, posts and discussions.
(Left to right: Steve Galea Pace, Jean Gatt, and Steven Coleiro
“We realised that people don’t know how to start investing, despite the increasing interest,” says Steven Coleiro, one of the group’s founders along with Jean Gatt. “We decided to create a Facebook group that addresses people’s interest in stocks by sharing information and bridging the gap in knowledge.”
The pair knew Steve Galea Pace, an investment analyst working in the Netherlands, who took up the offer to join them in educating and building up the community by releasing different content, with Mr Coleiro calling his contribution an invaluable one.
The intention for the group is to go beyond discussing equities. “It’s about creating a good community,” explains Mr Gatt, “where people can learn and feel supported in their investment journey.”
“Generally, the investment lifecycle of the average person begins with them not knowing much, then they get into mutual funds for example. But there’s a whole generation of young people who do not know where to go. So we’re specifically targeting those,” says Mr Coleiro.
“Our content is targeted at the very very beginner - literally starting from what is a stock,” says Mr Galea Pace. “Our main aim is to keep a level playing field, so we try to dumb it down, so to speak, to make sure it's as clear as can be.”
Mr Coleiro points to the local scenario which lacks independent persons. “The only option is to go to a broker, who will then sell you those shares, whereas we are just four guys who like talking about stocks.”
He notes that young generations have a lot of opportunities to buy stocks through their mobile phone, which he describes as a “very powerful but also dangerous tool”, while property is out of reach for many. People thus turn to the alternatives, which can also generate an even larger return than property.
Has younger generations’ experience with gaming affected this interest?
“Definitely,” asserts Mr Gatt. “Just look at Robinhood [a mobile app offering commission-free trading] – elements of gamification are built into the platform.”
But the biggest change, he says, is in how easy it has become to invest.
“We’re not living in our parents’ time anymore, when to buy a stock you need to call a broker who needs to make an order. Nowadays you can buy shares in the world’s leading companies by tapping on your screen.”
“We’re plugged in,” he continues. “To the media, to information flows, to the ebbs and flows of our consumeristic world. That access to both information and the power to act on it is a real gamechanger.”
Mr Coleiro picks up the thread, seeking to counterbalance any notion that investment can be treated as a game, stressing that the group seeks to educate people.
“Investment needs to be done with a high level of diligence,” he says. “It’s about the excitement of part owning a company and following it for the long term.”
Mr Galea Pace chimes in, saying, “If you treat investment as a gamble, the odds are always against you. In the end, the house always wins.”
“In the short term, you can’t tell what will happen, no matter what company it is,” he says, noting that short term traders are also competing against algorithmic traders who are much more advanced than any humans.
“But a company worth investing in will go in the right direction in the long term. That’s why investing is different. In the long run, you generally make money. In fact, as long as you educate yourself well and invest with a reasonable mindset, you can make some good money in the long run.”
“That’s right,” adds Mr Gatt, “and if the economy isn’t growing, there are bigger problems to worry about than your investments!”
Asked about their own background, Mr Coleiro says he is a qualified accountant with a Big 4 background, working mainly in audit, business advisory and M&A, while Mr Galea Pace obtained a Master’s degree in Holland and continued working there with an investment firm.
Mr Gatt is the outlier, he says with a smile. “I’ve never worked in traditional finance in my life, though I work in fintech now." A graduate in computer science from Middlesex University, he has worked as a software engineer in the telecom, IT security, and fintech industries.
Turning back to the group itself, it attracts a varied crowd, with some members having a wealth of experience and others wondering if they should get in.
“There are definitely many who are interested but don’t know where to start,” says Mr Galea. “Then there are those who just want to debate or have a discussion.”
Mr Gatt agrees, noting that prior to the formation of their group, there was nowhere else to discuss investment options with others in Malta.
Mr Coleiro describes the response as “really surprising”, noting that a recent question about a drop in the share price of Palantir led to a macroeconomic discussion with dozens of comments.
“The level of education and interest definitely surprised us,” he says, “but it’s also encouraging to see!"
The group is currently focusing on creating a solid foundation through increasing engagement and building a strong community. “We do this by adding value to our audience,” quips Mr Galea Pace.
That audience may well be Malta's new crop of investors, and with the internet forming the backbone of a new financial world, the future looks as exciting as it could be profitable.