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Each month, 53 member groups of the Australian Shareholders’ Association (ASA) meet around the country to discuss investment topics.

Attendees range from new investors to those with decades of experience. Meetings are held in cities and regional areas, and sometimes online via Zoom. Occasionally, a financial adviser attends to share their view at the ASA-convened meeting.

Although formats vary, the meeting philosophy stays the same. That is, to help investors learn from each other, share information and meet like-minded people.

“Member meetings are of one the most valuable parts of being an ASA member,” says ASA CEO, Rachel Waterhouse. “Being able to listen to other people about how they invest, and discuss your views, is a really good way to learn about investing.”

At some meetings, ASA members present their analysis of a stock. Other meetings consider issues like portfolio asset allocation. Waterhouse attended a meeting that discussed using Exchange Traded Funds in Self-Managed Superannuation Funds.

“Because the meetings are member-led, the content really varies,” says Waterhouse. “The discussions aren’t always around whether a company is undervalued or overvalued. Estate planning, for example, might be discussed at a meeting.”

Sharemarket meetings or clubs might seem antiquated in a world where people can buy and sell shares with their smartphone. Or learn about investing through YouTube, or use “robo” advisers for automated financial advice and portfolio construction.

Rachel Waterhouse - ASA

Rachel Waterhouse, CEO, ASA

But as Australia emerges from COVID-19, connecting with people face-to-face is more important than ever. “We’re seeing a lot of members interested in getting together again as COVID-19 restrictions ease,” says Waterhouse. “Online meetings were important during the pandemic, but nothing beats meeting in-person.”

Australia has many long-established sharemarket clubs. Enter “Stockmarket clubs in Australia” into Google and list of clubs appears. When choosing a club to join, make sure to understand its style. Some clubs focus on trading or active investing. Others involve members pooling funds for investment. Some clubs are more social than others. 

Waterhouse says ASA member meetings often have a social aspect. “A two-hour meeting on a company analysis might be followed by a lunch. Often, members see the meeting as an opportunity to catch-up with friends and share their passion for investing. In doing so, they become part of a group of investors who support each other.”

Waterhouse says ASA intends to grow its meeting program this year. Appointed as CEO in September 2021, she believes the meeting program complements ASA’s education resources and its advocacy to monitor listed companies on behalf of retail investors.

ASX Investor Update asked Waterhouse about her general advice for first-time investors– and her own investment experiences. 

ASX Investor Update: Rachel, what are some considerations for people who are thinking about investing for the first time? 

RW: Half the battle is getting started in sharemarket investing. Try to start as early as you can, ideally in your twenties or sooner. You don’t need lots of money to begin. Putting $500 in direct shares or an Exchange Traded Fund and a little more each month through a regular savings plan can be a great way to start. The best way to learn about the sharemarket is to invest in it. Doing so early in your career means you have more time to learn about investing, and more time to benefit from compounding returns.

ASX Investor Update: What if I’m in retirement. Is it too late to learn to invest?  

RW: Absolutely not. It’s never too late to start investing. Some ASA members started investing later in life because their personal circumstances changed. They might have to rebuild their wealth or take charge of their family’s investments, after a divorce.  Or they've inherited some money and want to learn how to invest it. Other retirees might worry if their money will last long enough in retirement. They want to develop their skills to invest in companies that pay reliable dividends. 

ASX Investor Update: When someone decides they want to start investing, what’s the next step to consider?   

RW: Education. It’s really important that you spend some time learning the basics of sharemarket investing. That’s doesn’t mean spending lots of money or devoting huge amounts of time. There is high-quality, free investment education material available. For example, I did the ASX online courses and got a lot out of them. MoneySmart (from the Australian Securities and Investments Commission) also has excellent education resources. The ASA, too, has a body of investment-education material for people with different levels of experience.

ASX Investor Update: When choosing stocks, what are some key things for new investors to think about?

RW: Every investor is different. Generally, every new investor should develop a financial plan before they invest. It could be as simple as understanding how long you are going to invest for, what type of risk you are comfortable with, and the types of companies or financial products you want to invest in. It’s important to put that on sheet of paper or an online document and refer to it monthly or quarterly, to make sure your investments are aligned with your plan and risk profile.  

ASX Investor Update: Can you explain ASA’s initiative to help women investors?

RW: Last year, ASA launched wInvest, a free financial literacy program for women. wInvest is designed to empower female investors and help more women get started in investing. The program has a range of online resources, including written material and a 16-week video series. The videos are hosted on the ASA website and its YouTube page. The response to wInvest has been very encouraging: there’s growing demand for investment education targeted to the needs of women.

ASX Investor Update: On a personal note, how has your investment strategy changed over the years?

RW: When I started investing, I focused on well-performing companies. Lately, I have tended to invest directly in higher-quality companies for their dividends. My preference is to reinvest those dividends and let the returns compound over time. I’ve also been using Exchange Traded Funds mostly because they are an easy, low-cost way to help achieve diversification in my portfolio by adding exposure to global shares. 

ASX Investor Update: What’s the best thing you have learned about investing during your career?

RW: Be patient and invest for the long-term. Not everyone agrees with that strategy, but making an initial investment, adding to it through regular contributions, and leaving it alone, has worked for me. It’s amazing how wealth can build as the returns from an investment compound over time. Also, I try to avoid short-term market “noise”. Share prices go up and down every day based on the latest pieces of information. Some people like to check their portfolio a few times a day, but that’s not for me. 

ASX Investor Update: What does an ASA membership cost and why would I join? 

RW: An annual membership starts at $145. Becoming a member means joining a group of like-minded people who have opportunities to learn through ASA meetings and educational resources. It also means being part of an organisation that provides good advocacy through its monitoring of 175 ASX-listed companies. ASA volunteers who monitor companies meet with boards ahead of their Annual General Meeting and often ask them tough questions on behalf of all retail investors.  If we don’t think a company is being fair to its retail investors, we’ll call them out. We’re seeing good interest from more ASX-listed companies to meet with ASA and understand the needs of retail investors.

To learn more about the Australian Shareholders’ Association, visit www.Australianshareholders.com

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