After a long week working at the Mackay Base Hospital in Queensland’s north, Melinda Clements is wrecked.

But rather than put her feet up and allow herself some Netflix time, the 28-year-old nurse flips open her copy of Scott Pape’s Barefoot Investor and pulls out her recent credit-card statement.

“I’m absolutely determined to sort this mess out,” she says of her finances, which are apparently in miserable shape after a car accident and a persistent family illness.

Clements is a representative of the often misunderstood internet generation, an age-bracket habitually mocked for a perceived laziness and sense of entitlement. She is part of an ongoing research effort conducted by fintech startups such as Spaceship to better understand the evolving demands of the internet generation.

While caricatures of Millennials circulate in marketing campaigns and the wider media, the determination and resolve of our young Australians to build their own wealth is often completely disregarded and overlooked.

Buying shares in BHP Billiton, Woolworths and Commonwealth Bank and staring down the barrel of 30-year mortgages don’t necessarily make sense for this cohort, who are, incidentally, on track to control as much as US$24 trillion ($34 trillion) of the world’s wealth before 2020, UBS data shows.

Instead, these young people are in, or coming into, the prime of their working lives and learning the difference between active and passive investing. But they are often overwhelmed regarding how their money can help them achieve their goals.

For financial planners looking for ways to tap into this generation, this seems like a wonderful opportunity to provide an unpatronising approach to wealth planning and sound financial advice based on fundamental education.

Just google it?

As Clements works through Pape’s steps for getting out of debt and automating a savings plan, she describes the difficulty in self-educating when it comes to finance.

“We didn’t have accounting or economics at my high school,” she says. “And my dad was a single parent who I don’t think was really that great at managing money himself, so I get stumped by a lot of this terminology.”

With everything on earth just a Google search away, the internet generation is extremely comfortable at seeking out answers to their own queries and piecing together how things work.

However, the barriers to understanding simple budgeting and investing seem to be higher than for learning Photoshop or finding the best flight prices. Only 27 per cent of Australians meet the threshold for basic financial consciousness, Deloitte’s 2018 Financial Consciousness Index shows.

The opportunities for financial planners to build face-to-face relationships with a no-pressure introduction to basic money management are enormous.

“I’d like to learn about investing and I know that the earlier I start, the better off I’ll be in the long run,” Clements says. “But every time I start researching about it, I just get overwhelmed by all the stuff on the internet and I have more and more questions and I don’t actually know whom to ask.”

The explosive success of self-help money books in recent times, and their popularity throughout middle Australia, illustrate a powerful and urgent need. It’s a need that experienced and empathetic professional planners around the country can fill by marketing their free first-time conversations directly to young people – anything to help gauge a young person’s goals, and oftentimes fill the gaps in their understanding.

Beyond simple capital allocation

Once financial planners have developed a relationship with a young Australians keen to build their wealth, they might be surprised to learn their attitude towards risk is broader than just an apprehension regarding volatility. They see environmental and social impact as risks also.

“I have goals I’d like my family to achieve but I don’t want to put money blindly behind whatever investment gets the most returns,” says Tom Wilston, a 31-year-old town planner from Wollongong, who is married, with a young daughter, and says a financial planner would be helpful.

“I understand I’ve got to diversify between equities and bonds and property, but I’d prefer to know what equities or what ETFs I’m going to be buying, rather than just [making] an allocation to an asset class.”

As model portfolios and new technology permeate the financial services industry, allowing planners to diversify easily into a system of managed or exchange-traded funds, those hoping to serve the internet generation will need to assure clients they will have transparency over investments.

This is a neat opportunity, as the calls for ESG-themed strategies and socially aware investing are coming from all over the country, though they’re largely driven by young people.

On the level

Most commentary on capturing the internet generation and their burgeoning wealth revolves around building your own brand on social media channels or subtly mocking avocado toast.

And while, from a communications perspective, understanding popular culture and the information tools of a generation is important, the real truth is young people want to connect with people, not with brands.

So approaching them with respect, and understanding they are looking for financial empowerment, not just financial returns, will perhaps put planners on track to begin building lasting relationships with the internet generation.

Jessica Sier is head of content at Spaceship, a fintech startup based in Sydney.

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