During 25 years working in financial services, Gina Bolvin Bernarduci thought she had seen and heard it all. Then a group of amateur investors on a Reddit forum called WallStreetBets created a short squeeze on hedge fund Melvin Capital, causing the stock price of GameStop to soar from single digits to nearly $350 a share in just a few months.
Bernarduci, president of Bolvin Wealth, a Boston-based RIA affiliated with LPL Financial that manages more than $300 million in client assets, watched with fascination—from the sidelines.. After all, Bolvin’s high net worth clients don’t hang out on Reddit or chase day-trading returns.
Then a funny thing happened. Bernarduci started fielding more requests than she’d ever received to talk about the markets, with interest coming from some unlikely sources, including a sorority. When GameStock burst into the headlines, Bernarduci was already booked to speak with a local Boys and Girls Club in Dorchester about her experience as a financial advisor, standard career stuff. But now the club told her that the kids and teens in the group would rather hear about investing, specifically GameStop and Bitcoin. It wasn’t just the price explosion—they were also interested in GameStock, she learned, because their parents had bought them video games gifts at the retailer.
Patricia Chapple, who runs the career exploration program at the Boys and Girls Club, was pleasantly surprised to see more than 30 attendees log on to listen to Bernarduci and her husband/colleague William Bernarduci discuss how the financial markets operate.
“It’s definitely because of everything that is going on right now because of GameStop and Bitcoin,” Chapple says of the outsized turnout. “It’s safe to say that a lot of these kids are not coming from a background where they’re having exposure to financial markets. They probably don’t have parents who are checking the stock market,” she adds. But GameStop and Bitcoin have sparked their interest.
While the ranks of financial advisors are predominantly white, the membership of The Boys and Girls Club of Dorchester is 83% minority and 85% low income. (As defined by The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, that means they come from households with income of $26,200 or less for a family of four.)
After the presentation, those in attendance asked questions—mostly about GameStop and Bitcoin. Tyrese Marta, 17, asked Bernarduci a pair of questions. He says he’s always had an interest in business, finance and the markets, but has learned more from the attention to GameStop and Bitcoin. He adds that not many of his friends shared his interest in the markets—until GameStop.
“It’s interesting to me how stocks can fluctuate, be risky, grow and diminish,” Marta says. “GameStop has always been a place where everybody goes to buy games. Learning that because of new technology and Covid some of their business has had to close down, that was probably the most interesting thing, how events can change the success of a company.”
Marta added that the session furthered his interest in the investing world. “I definitely want to learn more about it and possibly get into the business. I would like to get involved in investing clubs and join something like that.”
After that session, Bernarduci got another request to speak—from the Delta Zeta sorority at Northeastern University. True, that conversation was initiated by a sorority member whose father is an LPL professional. But that alone would likely never have been enough to generate an invitation or attract nearly 50 girls who chose to attend. It was the headlines that got the other sisters intrigued by the markets to attend what the organizer billed as the inaugural “mocktails and money” speaker series, hoping to breakdown barriers of entry for women in the world of finance.
“Safe to say I have never been contacted by a sorority in more than 20 years in the market,” marvels Bernarduci. “On top of that there have been more requests over the past few weeks to speak with these types of organizations as well as children of clients who want to talk about opening brokerage accounts.”
Bernarduci and other advisors are now viewing the recent frenzy as a unique opportunity to serve clients by helping guide their children who have discovered the stock market, as well as to provide those offspring with some wider financial education. “It is amazing to me this isn’t taught in high school,” Bernarduci adds. “Students are taught French and Italian but not how to balance a checkbook.”
This phenomenon is not limited to Bernarduci and her corner of the Commonwealth. Angie O’Leary, the head of wealth planning for U.S. wealth management at RBC Wealth Management, says her team of more than 2000 advisors has been fielding similar requests and seeing similar opportunities. O’Leary herself recently spoke to a young Asian professional group near her office in the Twin Cities in Minnesota.
O’Leary sees this as silver lining of the GameStop story. “I have a 22-year-old son who all of a sudden was texting me about day trading and he started day trading on Robinhood, I was almost falling off my chair,” O’Leary says. “It helps foster a conversation, we spoke about it for two hours and I probably haven’t talked to him for two hours since he was 13. It’s a good opportunity to bring this up while young adults are engaged.”
On top of trying to spread that financial gospel, O’Leary says that this moment has helped advisors to connect with the next generation—of critical importance to an industry that has struggled to attract younger clients and to build relationships with clients’ children and heirs.
During the height of the GameStop and Reddit mania, those who were in support of the efforts of that army of individual investors championed the events as a democratization of the markets. Yet when the smoke cleared it seemed that many of the big players were on the winning side. Perhaps the real democratization will come when the hordes of people who now have had their interest in markets piqued, learn more and invest for longer term gains.
As Bernarduci sees it: “if investors can get on the ball field they need to know how to play the game.”
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