Will Hassell was just 12 years old when Lehman Brothers crashed in the fall of 2008.
A few months earlier, he had convinced his father to buy him shares in a skateboarding company after a chance encounter with the CNBC program “Mad Money with Jim Cramer.”
“I saw [my dad] watching it and was like, ‘What’s this crazy man on TV talking about?’” Hassell said. “And he started to explain the stock market to me.”
So, even as companies were laying off thousands, Hassell was mostly focused on the portfolio his father had set up for him.
“I thought I could trade all the time and be like the guys on TV,” Hassell said.
That interest has not waned.
Today, Hassell, now a 19-year-old freshman at LeHigh University in Pennsylvania, is part of a burgeoning group of very young investors who registered the Great Recession as little more than background noise. As a result, they were too young to have embraced the skepticism of finance those even just a few years older than them may now feel. Rather than bearing ill will toward the world of finance, they want to be part of it.
“The kids who were in high school ahead of me all wanted to go work for social networks or Google,” Hassell told me.
But today, he said, “A lot of people want to be hedge fund managers.”
There isn’t much research or data to pull from to figure out whether the teens I spoke to for this story are representative of their broader peer group. But their aspirations demonstrate that the resentment many felt toward the world of finance in the wake of the financial crisis may not extend to this up and coming generation.
If Occupy was a leaderless movement, this wave of aspiring money managers already seems to have a figurehead. Most of the teens I spoke with for this article pointed to Julian Marchese, a 19-year-old from Toronto, as the leader of the youth trader movement.
Marchese told me his interest in the stock market began at age 8. It was hard to believe that until I stumbled across a 2009 profile of him at age 13 in his hometown newspaper, the Toronto Star:
He typically gets home at 3:05 p.m. and by 3:15 p.m. he sits down at his trading desk, equipped with three computer screens. The family television is tuned to CNBC. For Toronto's online trading prodigy, there's still ample time before stock markets close to make money.
A year later, he appeared on Canada’s version of “Shark Tank” to pitch an automated trading system he’d developed. “That got me some attention,” he said, and soon he started hearing from a lot of other people his age who shared his interest in finance.
In 2013, Marchese co-founded the Leaders Investment Club to serve as the online water cooler for all the young traders he had encountered. Today the group has over 100 formal members, and another 12,000 who visit the site for its tips and commentary. The youngest member is 14.
“The relationships are more like friendships, as opposed to business associates,” he said. “When you’re part of a club, you can start building relationships with other [young people] in the industry, and have a head start on [other] finance professionals.”
One of the club’s first major public headlines was not good. In December 2014, New York Magazine ran an article about Mohammed Islam, a 17-year-old from New York City who claimed he had made $72 million trading stocks. A few days later, he told the magazine he’d made the whole thing up.
Islam had been admitted as an official club member a few months earlier, after passing what Marchese describes as a rigorous screening process that is supposed to weed out posers or anyone who’s just looking to make a quick buck. (You can see their application here). Ultimately, individuals gain entry if they can convince him they are knowledgeable about markets, and bring some kind of unique and valuable wisdom to the forum.
While Islam did not post often in the club’s forums, Marchese said that when he did, “you could tell he knew what he was talking about.”
The group was initially thrilled that one of their members had been noticed, and had seemingly been so successful, Marchese said. But once they learned what Islam had done, they were collectively horrified. Marchese immediately ousted him.
“Publicizing a lie like that is not aligned with our values,” he said.
Nevertheless, Marchese, along with most of the teen traders I spoke with for this story, said they enjoyed the movie “The Wolf of Wall Street,” which depicts the antics of former stockbroker Jordan Belfort, who went to prison over penny stock fraud. I asked what they thought about the film, since it seemed to embody the way many Americans view the world of finance.
While they said his actions were clearly wrong, they said they respected the success he achieved.
The first thing Jacob Wohl, 17, said when I asked him what he thought of it was, “I don’t have a lot of experience on the brokerage side of things.” But it was “an excellent film from a cinematic standpoint,” he said. He emphasized he would never condone the type of behavior portrayed in it.
Marchese had a similar response.
“Watching it was a very interesting experience for me and I think others in the club,” he said. “You want to be very successful — [Belfort] is someone who has clearly done well for himself. But that is not a personality you want to be like.”
The minimum age to open a brokerage account and execute trades is 18, but all of the teens I spoke to for this story say they have been trading for years. They say they did this by convincing a parent or guardian to set up fiduciary accounts for them. Their parents confirmed that.
“I have told Julian many times that to become a true professional in any profession you need to passionately invest 10,000 hours or more of shear dedication,” Marchese’s father Marcello told me in an email. “Julian has most likely surpassed the 10,000 hour mark in both research and try to build a foundation. Julian possesses the uncanny ability to remain focused and determined even in the most difficult times.”
Besides help from their parents, quick and easy access to day-trading platforms like E*Trade, Schwab or Scottrade, has also allowed these teens to dip their toes in the market, despite their young age. Brandon Fleisher, a Toronto teen I previously profiled, managed to turn $50,000 of his parents’ money into $143,769 over two years.
“I think there are few businesses where you can wake up in morning, and that very day have the opportunity to move your business forward over such a short term,” said Jacob Wohl, 17, who trades from his home in suburban Los Angeles.
This year, Wohl is taking high school classes online so that he can focus on his business, Wohl Capital Investment Group. Lou Burgess, the vice president of a photography business, said he had been a client of Wohl’s since May after seeing a local TV feature on him.
“He has wisdom about his years and is sharper than a razor blade,” Burgess said. “I can’t praise him enough — he’s done an outstanding job for me.”
Four years ago, Rachel Fox, then 15, set out to gain financial independence from her parents. She had already appeared in a series of TV shows, was about to complete her high school requirements, and was primed to take the next, and biggest step.
She thought about investing in a series of projects using her acting money—buying a building, renting out billboards—but then she discovered day trading.
“I didn’t want to do anything risky or ridiculously stupid,” she said.
Through trial and error, Fox figured out her investing strategy, and now trades options and futures. She also runs a website called Fox on Stocks that has helped her gain nearly 15,000 followers on Twitter.
Fox expressed some skepticism about Wall Street institutions, saying it was people’s willingness to put someone else in charge of their wealth management that helped caused the financial crisis.
“I didn’t want to get involved with these professionals who thought they could do it better,” she said. “When 2008 happened, [people suffered] because they didn’t really think for themselves—when they were going to make these investments, they just had faith a professional could do it better.”
The teens I spoke to are divided on the means to achieving their goals. There are those like Hassell, who plan to stay in school. But others, like Marchese, are ready to start their careers right away. In fact, he’s so devoted to building a business, he barely has enough time to focus on Leaders Investment Club anymore.
“It’s been my dream to be an asset manager, and now as I’m building my own company, as a fiduciary, that needs to be my No. 1 priority.”
Rob covers business, economics and the environment for Fusion. He previously worked at Business Insider. He grew up in Chicago.