Technology is in the process of completely changing the world of personal finance. Once upon a time, you came of age, started working, deposited paychecks in a bank account, and, if you so chose, opened up an investment portfolio through a professional broker. That, plus a general savings strategy and attention to your personal budget, would have more or less been the extent of what “personal finance” meant.
Now, however, the ever-expanding digital world has given us all kinds of control over our finances and potential investments than ever before. And this leads young adults and other people who don’t have a great deal of experience in financial management to take matters into their own hands, for better or worse.
Consider just a few examples….
Mobile Bank Accounts - It really wasn’t that long ago that a bank account resided in an actual bank. Now, however, various apps - from official banks and otherwise - can effectively serve as mobile bank accounts for us.
We can manage accounts, transfer money, deposit checks, and even order debit cards directly from services like PayPal and Cash App, to say nothing of having full control over bank accounts through the banks’ own apps. All of this amounts to people having quicker and more direct control over their finances.
Cryptocurrency - Cryptocurrency is a brand new resource, and while many aren’t taking it seriously, others are buying into it as everything from an alternative form of money to an investment asset. In Africa in particular, cryptocurrency is presenting opportunities for the unbanked, providing a sort of all-digital financial system that is in some cases more accessible than traditional financial institutions.
Here, people haven’t just gained control over a particular asset, but over a whole new type of economy in the making. See also the article "Bitcoin to Rand" illustrating the South African setting.
Digital Investment - Perhaps most importantly, people have also gained a brand new ability to invest with incredible ease via mobile apps and new companies. Services like Robinhood have introduced low-start investments (you don’t have to buy a whole share, but can instead buy a fraction of one), with no fees whatsoever. They’re practically inviting inexperienced people to dip their toes into the stock market, and millions are doing just that.
The notion of personal investment or managing your own portfolio has taken on entirely new meaning. There are now whole lists of apps specifically recommended for “timid first-time investors!”
These ideas, programs, and services can be very helpful or very harmful depending on how they’re used. But their existence is ultimately only part of the personal finance issue facing so many young people and beginners today. The other part is that many of us tend to go into using these services with the assumption that we’ve learned something about personal finance, business, or investment - often from sources of entertainment and amusement.
Again, consider a few examples….
Shark Tank - Shark Tank has done something remarkable, which is that it has made average viewers feel like venture capitalists. The show places four or five mega-investors on a sort of panel to hear pitches from budding businesses, and follows along as they decide whether or not to buy in. It’s actually a very educational show in that it can teach the basics of how venture capital works. But it also naturally makes a lot of people feel like expert investors who are ultimately just fans of a show.
The Apprentice - The Apprentice has been hot and cold over the years, and is now perhaps best known for having helped to launch Donald Trump to entertainment fame years before he entered the political arena.
Now, the UK version of the show has been catapulted into the top realms of reality TV, where it shows off all kinds of different aspects of high-end business to innumerable viewers. The Apprentice is less set in its ways than Shark Tank, but suffice it to say its lessons can make its viewers feel like shrewd businesspeople and professional experts, when - again - they’re really just fans.
Financial Podcasts - Finance-related entertainment is not limited just to business and investing television shows. In the age of podcasts in which we find ourselves, there are also all kinds of audio-only programs that are specifically designed to teach personal finance.
These are actually legitimately educational and can address specific topics people need help with. That said, it’s still easy for listeners to get sucked in because they like a given podcast hope, and to run with advice a little too readily.
Considering it all together we can safely conclude that many people these days, and particularly young people, are at least trying to learn personal finance from entertainment, and are then putting their lessons into practice on their own. As to whether these entertainment-related sources can effectively teach financial strategies or practices however, can only be answered on a case-by-case basis.
Frankly, episodes of these shows or podcasts can in fact provide useful information about business, investing, and financial management. But it’s still important for people not to take their advice blindly.
Clinton Soto is from New York, New York, enjoys the NBA and loves studying the finance market with a cup of tea.