Educating Investors: the Investor Advocacy Clinic’s Innovative Approach

Investor education has always been a key component of the Investor Advocacy Clinic’s work.  While our primary focus is on working with investors who have suffered harm as a result of a broker’s misconduct, we want to help investors feel empowered about their own investing in the hopes that no one will ever need our services.

We were honored when we saw that SEC Commissioner Kara Stein’s remarks, The New American Dream: Retirement Security, delivered yesterday at the Brookings Institution referenced the work of the Georgia State Law Investor Advocacy Clinic.  Last year, student intern Qudsia Shafiq and Professor Nicole Iannarone testified about the role of securities arbitration clinics before the SEC’s Investor Advisory Committee.  During her testimony, Shafiq described the clinic’s investor education work, which includes reworking nursery rhymes to help teach investing concepts and creating investment crossword puzzles.  So, when Commissioner Stein said “But if we are truly to make a difference, financial literacy education needs to start much earlier,” we wholeheartedly agreed.  And we are honored the Commissioner cited to some of our investor education work as examples.

We think investment should be fun and that the process should be demystified.  So, we purposefully start blog posts with amusing stories (like this post about 50 Cent hawking house slippers with night lights) to ease investors into topics that might otherwise be intimidating. Students Eric Peters and Megan Makuck also authored a number of blog posts in nursery rhyme/fairy tale format: I’m a Little Teacup (REITs), Humpty Dumpty (Corporate Bonds), Baa Baa Black Sheep (Munis), Mary had a Little Lamb (Target Date Retirement Funds), The Farmer in the Dell (Commodities), The Tortoise and the Hare (active v. passive management), The Boy who Cried Wolf (penny stocks), Goldilocks and the Three Bears (suitability), and Little Red Riding Hood (research investment providers).

In addition to their prolific, and entertaining, blog posts, our student teams work on more in-depth investor education projects each semester.  Our students worked together to rewrite The Three Little Pigs into an animated, narrated storybook. Mary Ann Hanke outlined the cost of investing in her approachable narrated piece “The Science Behind your Account Fees.” Students have also created crossword puzzles on investing concepts (search for “crossword” on the blog).  Abigail Howd, Eric Peters, and Dowdy White created a BuzzFeed quiz – What Kind of Investment are You? – that uses questions like “What is your favorite chicken nugget dipping sauce” to help investors understand differing levels of risk in investing.

Though we have a lot of fun in the clinic, we know that there is a significant need for more, and that we can’t laugh about our collective lack of financial literacy.  We appreciate Professor Benjamin P. Edwards talking about our work on the Business Law Prof Blog and underscoring that improving investor outcomes isn’t just educating more.  In the Investor Advocacy Clinic, we believe that investors need education in addition to disclosures that they can actually understand.  So, in addition to our fun investor education work, we work closely with regulators while also engaging in the academic dialogues about what disclosure means.  For instance, clinic director Professor Iannarone’s scholarship explores how technology can be deployed to craft disclosures that consumers understand and how to use technology to tailor disclosures to investors.  At the Investor Advocacy Clinic, we’re passionate about helping investors understand investing and moving the needle towards better financial literacy.