Learn Wall Street aims to promote financial knowledge in kids
Raji Khabbaz knows Wall Street, with a career that spans experience at hedge funds and family offices. After having his first child, he felt a calling to provide financial intelligence to the rising next generation and make it accessible to more people. He talked with Crain Currency about his new initiative and the impact he hopes to make in children’s lives.
What was your “why” for launching Learn Wall Street?
Financial knowledge is somewhat unique in comparison to other subjects like math or history. It’s much more valuable the earlier you learn it in life because of the long-term power of compounding. Our students’ youth is really a superpower. It gives them a very long investment horizon.
It’s interesting that, more than a few times, parents reported back to us that the students came home after just the first lesson and asked for investment accounts to be opened for them. Maybe we should have waited until the later lessons to tell them about how much money will grow at 10% a year compounded for 30 to 40 years!
While there is a growing recognition of the importance of financial education for young people, there remains a large gap in traditional school curriculums. Many online financial education apps, videos and in-person programs, like the boot camps, place perhaps too much focus on knowledge—things like theory and definitions—and too little on wisdom, which comes from experience. A little bit of knowledge without wisdom can be a dangerous thing.
How do you give teenagers, who’ve never bought a stock, investing wisdom? We use important case studies involving heroic Wall Street victories and catastrophic failures to teach the lessons. This helps us bridge the wisdom and experience gap. The case histories give them a mental library to access as they enter the investing world.
The other super-important aspect of the case-study approach is that it helps solve the Achilles' heel present in all financial education programs—teenager boredom. It’s a huge obstacle to getting the students to engage. Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code turned medieval history into a page-turner. We’re trying to make finance and investing interesting in the same way. That’s the reason for Learn Wall Street.
What will the program include?
The program is a 12-week, once-a-week, one-hour class. Each week covers a foundational principle, like risk and reward, stock valuation or the trade-off theory. The progression of the 12 lessons is purposely designed to take the students from a point of financial ignorance to one of relative enlightenment in three months.
Who can participate?
The targeted student levels are ninth through 12th grade and college.
How can the next gen of family offices really benefit from something like this?
I’ve spent the last 3½ years in the family space. One of their most critical needs is to prepare the next generation to handle the eventual transfer of significant wealth. Remember, I said a little knowledge can be dangerous. Well, that piece of wisdom is further confirmed by wealth management executives we spoke with who confirmed bad outcome after bad outcome because of a little knowledge. I strongly believe our approach of embedding as much wisdom as possible in our lessons produces a richer mental framework for the next gen of family offices to navigate financial markets.
You’re piloting the program now. What are your thoughts on next steps?
As a former hedge fund manager, I’ve looked at the online education industry from an investing perspective. The governing ethos is that technological innovation is the key to teaching success. It’s true that technological innovation in education has disrupted the industry. It enables a much greater and almost instant reach for the material. It created a whole new set of teaching tools, like simulations and educational gameplay.
However, I think the challenge of making financial literacy engaging to younger students means content is still king.
The good news is there’s tremendous synergy between great content and technological innovation, like what is happening in artificial intelligence. For example, if people can now use AI to make movies in the blink of an eye, imagine how much more alive and interesting AI could make investing case studies in an online format. That would go a long way toward discouraging teenagers from tuning out after 30 minutes on an app or while watching a YouTube video.
If you want to reach as many students as possible with what you believe is life-changing knowledge, the future is innovation and online. And the key to that future is amazing storytelling and content. That is the direction I would like to take the program ultimately.