OCTOBER 27, 2000 VOL. 26 NO. 42 | SEARCH ASIAWEEK
Life After the Piggy Bank
Investors don't have to be gray before they can play. The Net can help young people become stock market whiz kids
By OLIVER ROHLFS
The "About Us" section of investing website teenanalyst.com reads like a high school yearbook. It features Alex Weis, the staff writer. He is 17 years old and vice president of his class at Boyd Anderson High School. Then there's 16-year-old Dan Bassett, the graphic artist. He is on the golf team, math team and scholastic bowl team. And of course, there is Chris Stallman, the co-founder of the site and vice president of operations. "It's important to begin learning about investing at the earliest age possible, so that compounding can have a greater effect on your return," he says. The 17-year-old American may be too young to shave but not to save. He has been reaping investment rewards since 1998.
Stallman and his pals are living proof of the democratization of equity investing. While the stock market was once seen as the playground of the wealthy elite, people from all walks of life are now jumping in even kids. That's not to say that investing is child's play. As the last seven months have shown, stocks are still a risky business. Any newcomer should go in with eyes wide open. But for young or inexperienced investors, there are now a number of websites that can help. "The internet really empowers individuals to take their investments in their own hands," says Pamela Ip, Asia-Pacific Managing Director of Stockhouse.com.
Teenanalyst.com is a good place to start for kids who don't know a stock from a bond, the KOSPI from the Footsie (that's the Korea Stock Price Index and the London Stock Exchange Index, or FTSE). The site is especially designed for the under-aged and explains the basics of investing in a series of easy-to-read articles. "Compounding is an investor's best friend," Stallman writes, because "you are earning money on what you have already earned!" The site unravels the mysteries of bonds, stocks, index funds and mutual funds. There's even advice on how to invest while on a college student's budget. All the while, teenanalyst emphasizes a cautionary approach to personal financial planning. The layout is clear rather than overloaded, and though there are limited graphics and interactive components, users can e-mail any questions they might have.
In Asia, the Net can still be a pretty dry place for young investors to surf. But the folks at Singapore-based wallstraits.com are trying to change that. "We feel strongly that there is the need for better, friendlier, and less biased content online," says CEO Curtis Montgomery. He received his first stock as a gift from his father when he was 15, "fell in love with the quarterly dividends," and was hooked on investing after that. While his portal is not specifically aimed at adolescents, it does include a "school" for investors that is engaging and fun to read. Presided over by a wise-looking old character named Professor Sage, the school's contents page is divided into different sections of a shrewd investor's brain (presumably the prof's). The curriculum covers investment fundamentals as well as more sophisticated financial ratios and portfolio management skills. "There's no better place to learn about investing," Montgomery says of the school. "You learn at your own pace, you decide when class will be held, the learning is more interactive and you can wear your pajamas!" He wants to fill the virtual void in Asian investor education by expanding into Malaysia, Hong Kong and Australia before the end of the year.
One of the first rules of playing the markets, though, is that it's good to check out several sources. Another place for investors of all levels to look for information is the recently unveiled Hong Kong Electronic Investor Resources Center at www.hkeirc.org. This site somewhat redeems the Hong Kong Securities and Futures Commission for the jaw-dropping boredom of its main website (www.hksfc.org, for insomniacs in search of a sedative). The Electronic Investor Resources Center provides a regularly updated virtual library with over 400 categorized links to investing guides the majority of which are from outside of Asia (read, in North America). Nevertheless, the list covers a comprehensive array of topics including the investing basics the section most geared to younger learners as well as specialized information that many brokers could probably still benefit from reading.
But novices especially should be careful. The library also contains links to commercial websites that provide educational material. These publishers have their own agendas. "It's not easy to maintain distinctions between education, information and marketing," warns Ivy Lai, Associate Director of the HKSFC. Still, there is a lot of good information here that is easy to cross-check.
As with most subjects, the more you know, the more you realize how much more there is to learn. "Clearly learning about investing online is extraordinary," says Mark B. Duff, CEO of Boom.com, Asia's first online brokerage. "Everything from glossaries for beginners to real-time financial modeling is available at the click of a mouse." The fun for young investors really begins after they've mastered the basics. Investment games using fictional money can be found on many online brokerage websites, including boom.com. There are also a dozen or so links to games at www.hkeirc.org/ emain/ e_mktsim.html. Games are ideal for investors who want to sharpen their skills without breaking the bank. And given recent worldwide financial market turbulence, at least they won't be losing as much sleep as their real-life counterparts.
Quick Scroll: More stories from Asiaweek, TIME and CNN