Getting Started:
Human-Centred Solutions to Engage Ontario Millennials in Investing

This behavioural insights research study outlines barriers millennials face when attempting to learn more about or start investing, as well as tactics public and private organizations can employ to address these barriers.

Read the full report, OSC Staff Notice 11-782, Getting Started: Human-Centred Solutions to Engage Ontario Millennials in Investing.

July 12, 2018


As part of our continued efforts to deliver strong investor protection and foster innovation in the capital marketsCapital markets Where people buy and sell investments.+ read full definition, the Ontario Securities CommissionOntario Securities Commission An independent Crown corporation that is responsible for regulating the capital markets in Ontario. Its mandate is to provide protection to investors from unfair, improper or fraudulent practices, to foster fair and efficient capital markets and confidence in capital markets, and to contribute to the stability of the financial system and the reduction of systemic…+ read full definition (OSCOSC See Ontario Securities Commission.+ read full definition) has published Getting Started: Human-Centred Solutions to Engage Ontario Millennials in Investing, a behavioural insights research report outlining barriers millennials face when attempting to learn more about or start investing, as well as tactics for addressing these barriers.


Facilitating the development of products and services that are responsive to investors’ needs helps foster innovation and efficiency in the capital markets. The OSC is publishing Getting Started because it believes the report’s findings will help a variety of stakeholders—including investmentInvestment An item of value you buy to get income or to grow in value.+ read full definition firms, organizations delivering investor education, investor advocates, fintech startups and other public and private organizations—to design products, services, and programs that better respond to the unmet needs of millennials.

As outlined in the OSC’s 2018-19 Statement of Priorities, the OSC is committed to:

  • conducting and publishing research that provides insights into retail investor knowledge, attitudes and behaviours to design better policies and programs as part of its evidence-based approach;
  • developing tailored solutions to reach the broad range of investor groups, including seniors, millennials and new Canadians, and
  • expanding and modernizing its efforts in investor engagement, research, education and outreach, to help investors build their knowledge, understanding and confidence in planning for their investment goals and retirement finances.

In addition, the OSC is integrating behavioural insights into its work. Behavioural insights examine how people are often neither deliberate nor rational in their decisions in the way that traditional models, strategies and policies assume.

The findings of Missing Out: Millennials and the Markets, a 2017 research study published by the OSC Investor Office, presented an opportunity to pursue behavioural insights research that helps fulfill the objectives listed above. Missing Out found that, while many millennials are doing a great deal to prepare for their financial futuresFutures A derivative contract that commits you to buy or sell a commodity, currency or stock market index at a set price on a set date in the future. Unlike an option, you can’t change your mind later; you must do what your contract says you will do.+ read full definition—4 in 5 have savings, and two-thirds have under $15,000 in non-mortgageMortgage A loan that you get to pay for a home or other property. Often the loan is for 20 years or more. You make a set number of payments for a set amount each year.+ read full definition debtDebt Money that you have borrowed. You must repay the loan, with interest, by a set date.+ read full definition—many millennials find investing to be a challenge: only one in two have investments, and a majority of non-investors cited low knowledge of investing and fear of losing money in the markets as reasons why they do not currently investInvest To use money for the purpose of making more money by making an investment. Often involves risk.+ read full definition.

In response to these findings, the OSC worked with Upside Consulting Group to better understand how millennials think and feel about investing, what barriers they face along their investing journey, and what stakeholders can do to help them overcome these challenges.


The team conducted 90-minute in-depth interviews with 18 Ontarian millennials, each of whom is employed full-time and either had some early experiences with investing or was on the cusp of being able to do so. The team complemented this primary research with a literature review of relevant behavioural science research as well as an industry scan of current investing channels. Finally, the team also engaged a targeted group of industry participants, selected for their expertise in engaging with the Millennial cohort, to provide feedback on the initial insights from this research.

Key findings

The findings of the research include the following four key insights:

    1. Many millennials are at a life stage where it’s difficult to picture one’s future self, as so much about life remains uncertain, and investing feels like something that limits one’s freedom to try on new identities and experiences.
    2. Millennials are deeply affected by their perceptions of where their peers are at. Social comparisons can serve as important reference points for setting and acting on financial goals, as long as they feel relevant and don’t feel out of reach.
    3. Investing feels overwhelming if there is no clear way to take the first step. Paralysis over having too many optionsOptions An investment that gives you the right to buy or sell it at a set price by a set date. The buy right is termed a “call” option, and the sell right is termed a “put” option. You buy options on a stock exchange.+ read full definition is exacerbated by industry practices that evoke skepticism and undermine trustTrust An account set up to hold assets for a beneficiary. A trustee manages the assets until the beneficiary reaches legal age.+ read full definition.
    4. Experimentation can build confidence in the investing process. In the absence of opportunities to test and learn, those with little or no knowledge of investing fear loss to a degree that is a barrier to investing.
      These insights informed the development of six design principles, which are meant to start conversations among stakeholders about how to develop and refine programs, products, and services in ways that better meet the needs of their users—Ontario millennials.

      1. Prompt millennials to identify their own unique motivation for investing, and validate that motivation in a non-judgmental way.
        Instead of making assumptions about millennials’ motivations or the life milestones they have in mind, help them identify their own motivation. When they discover their motivation and can see investing as relevant to it they are more likely to engage.
      2. Meet millennials where they are by providing personalized, achievable steps that make it easy to get started.
        Use available information to propose a starting point that makes sense to the user (e.g., prompting them to set aside a percentage of their wages after they start a new job), narrowing the scope of questions and decisions and making the process feel less overwhelming.
      3. Lengthen perspective by making the future consequences of current actions feel more concrete.
        Draw attention to longer-termTerm The period of time that a contract covers. Also, the period of time that an investment pays a set rate of interest.+ read full definition considerations by connecting the impact of current decisions to their future consequences.
      4. Curate aspirational social comparisons to promote achievable investing habits.
        Social comparisons need to be chosen carefully: they can be motivating if they feel achievable and relevant to an individual’s circumstances, but can be discouraging if they seem out of reach.
      5. Allow for low-risk experimentation, reinforcing early learnings with feedback that builds confidence and motivates continued progress.
        Once they get started, millennials crave regular reinforcement that the steps they’re taking are having the expected result.
      6. Inspire trust by putting the user’s needs first.
        Millennials are focused on getting advice from people who have their needs top of mind.

      The OSC Investor Office carries out a wide variety of investor education and outreach initiatives, including via its website, and the design principles identified in Getting Started will inform its outreach to millennials over the coming year.

      The OSC believes that the design principles described in Getting Started also will be helpful to a broad range of stakeholders in the financial ecosystem, including investment firms, organizations delivering investor education, investor advocates, fintech startups, and other organizations.

      The design principles identify pathways to develop and test new models, observe how their users respond and continue to learn and adapt. The OSC looks forward to engaging in conversations with stakeholders about opportunities to implement the findings of this report.

      Read the full report, OSC Staff Notice 11-782, Getting Started: Human-Centred Solutions to Engage Ontario Millennials in Investing.

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