‘Koalas to the moon’: Millennial traders try to change the world

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“With the right tools, the growing connectivity of retail investors will crowdsource not only investment decisions, but also a wealthier society,” Pearler founder Nick Nicolaides, a former JPMorgan banker, tells Wealth Generation. “We’ve built philanthropic giving at the core of the platform to accelerate this.”

The foundation, led by Wiradjuri man Phil Usher, promotes financial prosperity for Indigenous Australians, inspired by the dire statistic that 48 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experience financial stress. Among a range of initiatives, it has reunited 1600 Indigenous Australians with $24 million in missing superannuation.

Growing donor bloc

Usher says aspirational Millennials are a powerful and growing donor bloc. “We know that it is the younger generation that want to engage with the work that we do,” he says. “And they want to change the world.”

But the goodwill is not confined to those Millennial investors taking a more cautious and arguably responsible approach to portfolio construction. The Robinhood and Reddit traders, many of whom have banked enviable returns speculating on volatile virus-induced sharemarkets, are also throwing selected charities a bone.

Members of the notorious WallStreetBets forum on social media site Reddit, which was the launchpad for the historic GameStop short squeeze attack by day traders that forced hedge fund Melvin Capital to accept a bailout package from industry peers, are also “paying it forward”.

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Just as they purchased GameStop stock en masse in January, pushing the electronic retailer’s share price up 700 per cent and exposing short-sellers, the 9.3 million self-described “degenerates” belonging to the subreddit are now sponsoring gorillas in almost similar numbers.

In a video post on the WallStreetBets bulletin board, Tara Stoinski, director of the famed Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, confirmed it had received 3500 “adoptions” worth $US350,000 since last weekend when the Reddit activists first suggested it as a worthy target. It typically receives about 60 adoptions over a six-day period.

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“They’ve truly made a difference for our world and shown what can be accomplished when people come together,” Dr Stoinski told the BBC. “When we save gorillas and we save forests, we save our world.”

The Australian incarnation of the popular forum, ASX Bets, has not been afraid to take a more cautious approach than its US-based subreddit cousin.

During the GameStop saga, the forum’s moderators shut down an attempt by members to launch a similar short squeeze on local fund managers, partly nervous about Australia’s more interventionist corporate regulator.

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But it had no such reservations jumping on the charitable bandwagon, albeit with a native Australian twist. Some of its 62,000 members this week began adopting endangered koalas and wombats.

“Koalas to the moon,” posted ASX Bets user PixelRage alongside three rocket ship emojis in a sarcastic reference to the Reddit traders’ preferred parlance when tipping or encouraging a share price rally.

Global financial markets have this year rapidly woken up to the fact that Millennial and Generation Z investors have quickly amassed real market power amid the pandemic, buoyed by social media and low-cost trading.

Now, they are disrupting the high finance industry’s preferred mode of philanthropic giving, ditching the black-tie charity balls and self-congratulatory press releases in favour of direct electronic transfers and a few humorous memes.

Who needs an impact investment manager anyway?