How technology will shape your financial future

Insights

In the finance world, there's a prevailing belief that sophisticated investments are the domain of institutional investors—large banks, hedge funds, and other financial behemoths with vast resources and specialized expertise. However, a paradigm shift is underway. Just as you don’t need a degree in aerospace engineering to book a commercial flight, the average investor doesn’t need millions of dollars to gain access to investments once reserved for institutions. This transformation has been fueled by advancements in technology and the proliferation of financial tools, enabling individuals to navigate complex markets and make informed decisions in ways that weren’t previously available. As someone who came from humble beginnings, I am a big believer in the importance of financial democratization.  The empowerment these tools give the average investor is of great interest to me and has fueled continued innovation at EquityZen. 

Historically, retail investors—individuals investing their own money rather than on behalf of an institution—have been limited in their investment options. Traditional avenues such as stocks, bonds, and mutual funds have been the mainstay of retail portfolios for decades. However, the rise of online brokerage platforms and investment apps has democratized access to a broader array of assets. From real estate to commodities, from venture capital to cryptocurrencies, retail investors now have more investment options than ever at their fingertips.

 

Technology as the Great Equalizer:

So what has led to this increased access? One of the key enablers has been technology. The proliferation of online platforms and fintech solutions has leveled the playing field, providing retail investors with tools and resources once exclusive to institutions. For instance, algorithmic trading systems, once proprietary to Wall Street quant funds, are now available to retail investors through platforms like Robinhood and ThinkOrSwim. In fact, one of my projects during my tenure at a quant fund was to convert a sophisticated long-short strategy for institutional investors into a mutual fund my mom could access with $2,500 on Vanguard. These algorithms leverage complex mathematical models to execute trades at lightning speed, enabling investors to capitalize on fleeting market opportunities that were once only available to institutions who could pay large sums of money to build and maintain these systems. The same technological advancements and tools have allowed for the proliferation of cryptocurrencies. Blockchain technology has given investors direct access to digital assets that were once the subject of speculation among institutional insiders.

Similarly, access to alternative investments—assets beyond stocks and bonds that are becoming a key component of balanced investment portfolios—has been revolutionized by technology, especially after the JOBS Act. EquityZen was born out of this era as companies started to stay private longer and the need for private market access for individual investors became more necessary. That trend hasn't changed. In fact, the percentage of public companies has dropped 50% from its peak in 1996, with 87% of companies with over $100M in revenue now private instead of public. Tech-enabled tools are crucial in order to make this market accessible to more investors. Over a decade into our lifecycle, EquityZen remains laser-focused on improving the tools and technology that can enable even further access to a market that was only accessible to the ultra-wealthy and institutions. 

 

Education and Empowerment:

Of course, access alone isn't enough. Investors need the knowledge and tools to navigate these sophisticated markets effectively. Afterall, these new market opportunities can often involve illiquidity and opacity, in addition to the risk of loss. Fortunately, the move towards investment democratization has been accompanied by a wealth of new educational resources for eager investors. From online courses and webinars to forums and social media groups, investors have unprecedented opportunities to learn from experts and peers alike. 

At EquityZen, we’ve doubled down on the educational content we provide investors both within our investment marketplace and via our blog. We believe that well informed investors make the best investment decisions and are committed to helping provide investors with the resources they need. This includes sharing capitalization tables, research-driven offering documents and historic pricing information for all the companies we offer investments in, along with how-to guides and market insights informed by our rich database of private market trading data.

As we look forward, advancements in data analytics and artificial intelligence are empowering investors to make more informed decisions. Platforms like Bloomberg Terminal and YCharts provide retail investors with access to real-time market data, economic indicators, and sophisticated analytical tools. Machine learning algorithms analyze vast datasets to identify trends and patterns, helping investors uncover hidden opportunities and mitigate risks.

Technology lies at the heart of reshaping and democratizing the financial landscape, enabling average investors to access opportunities once reserved for institutions. New tools now provide individual investors with the resources and knowledge needed to navigate sophisticated markets with confidence. Of course, with this newfound power comes great responsibility. A favorite quote of mine from Paul Virilio states, “when you invent the ship, you also invent the shipwreck”. For this reason, retail investors entering new markets must educate themselves and stay diligent about risk management when making investment decisions. By doing so, they can unlock the full potential of the modern investment landscape and achieve their financial goals in ways that were once out of reach. Just as one doesn't need to be an aerospace engineer to book a flight, the average investor can reach new heights thanks to advances in fintech.

 


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