Is She the Next Warren Buffett? ING and Girls Inc. Groom Girl Investors

Grooming a girl Warren Buffett

Coming of age during a drawn-out recession can certainly color a teenager's views about finances. In fact, the annual Junior Achievement Teens and Personal Finance Survey shows that the percentage of teens who expect they'll be able to support themselves before they are 25 has fallen from 83 percent in 2011 to 60 percent in 2013.

Those findings also reveal that 34 percent of teens are either somewhat or extremely unsure about their ability to invest money. It's an attitude that many kids -- especially girls -- never outgrow.

According to a 2011 MassMutual Financial Group study, only one-fourth of women felt confident in making their own investment decisions, while nearly half of men felt confident about their ability to make smart investment choices.

Building Confidence One Girl at a Time

ING U.S. and Girls Inc. have gotten together to close that confidence gap. They've created the ING-Girls Inc. Investment Challenge, which is giving young women in 20 U.S. cities real-world, hands-on investing experience.

While traditional personal finance classes offered in schools stick to the basics of budgeting and saving, and teach kids how to open bank accounts, they rarely rise to the level of teaching them how to accumulate wealth by investing.

That's where the ING and Girls program picks up. The investment challenge, now in its fourth year, let's teams of girls ages 12 to 18 create virtual $50,000 portfolios of investments to manage with the help of an ING volunteer. As an added incentive for the participants, they get to keep some of their virtual gains. After three years, two-thirds of any "profits" in the portfolio are paid by the ING Foundation to the girls in the form of college scholarships. The remaining one-third of the gains goes to the local Girls Inc. affiliate to support their programs.

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The program teaches the girls core investing principles such as asset allocation, diversification, portfolio turnover, and valuation, which are intended to encourage sound, long-term investing behavior. Two virtual teams will be created in September 2013 in addition to the teams that meet in person.

This year another shorter-term program was added -- a one-year version called ING-Girls Inc. Investing Matters -- where 19 teams of teen girls will manage $36,000 portfolios. In addition to learning about investing, saving, and philanthropy, the curriculum is designed to encourage the girls to consider a career in finance or economic education.

Girl Portfolio Power

In 2009, when the program began, The ING-Girls Inc. Investment Challenge was named by the Clinton Global Initiative as one of 13 programs that "will improve the lives of girls and women."

The first cycle of the challenge involved teams of girls in New York City, Denver, and Los Angeles and Alameda counties in California. When the challenge ended in 2012, all four teams had increased the size of their portfolios by between 31 percent and 55 percent -- remarkably better than the overall market during that period -- and earned scholarships of between $15,500 and $25,000 per team.

According to Bindu Patel, AVP of ING U.S.' Mutual Fund Advisory Group and governing board member for the Girls Investment Challenge, that performance was very encouraging.

During the three-year annualized period ending Feb. 29, 2012, the domestic equity market as measured by the S&P 500 Index returned approximately 25 percent and the international equity markets as measured by the MSCI EAFE index generated returns of approximately 20 percent. The Barclays U.S. Aggregate Bond Index, a broad measure of the fixed income markets, returned approximately 7.52 percent for the same period.

"Compare those index returns to the teams' portfolios, which were guided by an individual team investment objective, that ranged between 70 percent and 90 percent allocations to equity and the remainder to fixed income vehicles -- they fared pretty well," Patel says.

Sounds like these girls really could be the future Warren Buffetts of the world.