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2021 was a year of great growth, change and innovation, nowhere more so than in the financial markets. We saw an extraordinary number of retail IPOs and SPACs, watched as consumers (and the brands they love) embraced cryptocurrency with open arms, as well as the rise of the retail investor. With respect to AMC and GameStop, we also took notice of consumers-turned retail investors, using their buying power to influence and drive brand value in new ways. Having spent the last half decade advocating for more market access by way of “owning what you love,” I was delighted to see that advice at the root of this historic moment.
If last year brought the emergence of retail investors to Wall Street, I predict that 2022 will be the year of an even broader ownership economy, where every consumer — regardless of disposable income or background — will have an opportunity to get a piece of the economic pie.
With this influx of investing and ownership enthusiasm, however, comes heightened responsibility for the fintechs, financial institutions and brands; it’s critical that we work together to understand this moment in time and to drive it forward for the good of customers, our businesses and the economy.
A few observations for the year ahead to help us make the most of this powerful point in time.
An ownership economy demands increased access
Historically, an individual consumer’s class, income and background played large roles in who became an investor. And while I wish I could say the demographic makeup of today’s shareholders in some of the largest corporations, technology companies and brands has changed completely in light of the fintech boom, unfortunately there is still a significant gap between owners and the everyday consumer. We’re a country wherein only about half of Americans own stock, and while meme stocks and Reddit may have gotten more people excited about the market, it didn’t change the game for folks who are afraid to put their own capital at risk. That means it’s up to all of us — fintech entrepreneurs, leadership at financial institutions and executives at publicly traded companies — to look at new ways of bringing ownership to Americans and to make the process less intimidating and more educational.
Simplifying access points means more consumers can have a stake in the stock market, which means a more connected economy. As business leaders, we must ask ourselves how our organizations are meeting this new wave of retail investors. How can we engage, educate and invite our everyday consumers to become a part of our story?
While 2021 sparked a wave of interest and excitement, kick-starting the ownership economy, I predict 2022 is the year we see brands and banks alike commit to creating access for even more consumers to begin participating as owners. The ones who do will build lasting relationships, and turn customers into advocates.
Related: 3 Trends to Keep Customers Engaged in 2022
Bringing together the bank and the brokerage
Speaking of simplifying the consumer experience, I predict consumers will be looking for more and more streamlined connections between financial institutions (aka “the bank”) and where they hold and maintain ownership (aka “the brokerage”). Why? Because consumers now expect banks to play a more active role in supporting their financial futures.
2021 confirmed that pandemic impacts will permanently alter the behaviors of Americans, including moving ever closer to a cashless system and Gen Z and beyond adopting new ways of receiving, spending and sending money. That fluidity of financial movement can change expectations for the institutions holding, backing and protecting funds.
Put simply, young people now expect more from banks. They have never had to live in a world of envelope budgeting (literally) to keep cash sorted, but were raised amid technology that auto-budgets and provides both detailed tracking of spending and seamless ways of moving funds. This group will demand a fluid connection between cash and assets, and according to a recent study by the fintech payments platform Marqeta, 54% want their bank to offer more incentives to guide the customer.
Clearly, financial institutions have an opportunity to authentically engage with their young customers by educating and informing (not simply spending or swiping), all while empowering their financial well-being and cultivating a life-long relationship. Banks and brokerages can expect to work more closely to provide this fluid experience, and as this generation becomes increasingly aware of and excited about investing and the ownership economy, they’ll expect the same education and insights about ownership as they do about spending and saving.
I predict 2022 is when we’ll start to see these conceptual partnerships between banks and brokerages come to life.
Related: How Generation Z Is Altering the Face of Entrepreneurship for Good
The role of brands in the ownership economy
So far, I’ve focused on the financial system’s role in the expanding ownership economy, but there is another equally important player in this equation: the brands. In 2021 and into this new year, brands have to work harder than ever to create quality products and meaningful connections with customers. Many consumers have seen their lives upended over the course of the pandemic, and the brands nimbly changing with the times are the ones thriving.
Take for example the number that launched new rewards and loyalty programs. They weren’t focused on punch cards or “buy 10, get one free,” but instead were looking at what innovations and rewards in the market were ready to be adopted, particularly those that give consumers a sense of ownership or empowerment. In some cases, that new reward currency was crypto.
Burger King said it well in a statement after launching its crypto rewards promotion: “Cryptocurrency has been a hot topic of conversation recently, but we know it can be difficult to understand. That’s why we wanted to bring crypto to our guests in a way that was accessible and digestible (literally and figuratively) — through our food.”
Brands are uniquely suited to help their customers access and digest (as it were) the ownership economy, and why wouldn’t they? Crypto or stock rewards can help drive awareness in unique ways — can offer something more tangible than a point or coupon and can show customers that they are literally invested in the relationship. Not to mention that making your customers owners is overwhelmingly good for business, according to a 2021 Columbia Business School study.
Related: Fears of the Fed’s Policy Changes Send Huge Losses in the Cryptocurrency Market
Regardless of where you sit in the ownership economy equation, remember that the most important thing about this new way of doing business is that we all stand to benefit from the economy we co-create. I see immense opportunity for consumers, owners, brands and financial institutions alike as we embrace these shifts, and predict that, above all else, this will be a year in which more brands and banks find points of alignment with customers — which hopefully means we’ll all thrive together.
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