Democratizing Finance: Providing Widely Accessible Data on Stock Warrants; User Configuration and Access to Information in Investing

Rose, Theodore, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Graham, Daniel, EN-Comp Science Dept, University of Virginia
Earle, Joshua, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia

The proposed technical project demonstrates the market viability of an accessible platform providing data on stock warrants. Through using various web development tools and accessibility standards, I attracted a diverse set of actors outside of traditional financial norms. By interpreting the case study of Robinhood’s rise as a brokerage platform with a mission to “democratize” finance, the project emulated the successful design decisions made by the company while incorporating new considerations to maximize user agency. Furthermore, an understanding of the industry landscape and sociological narratives was fundamental to the development of a technical project in this space.

The technical project is a platform providing openly accessible data and information on financial warrants, emphasizing key insights from competitors and successful platforms like Robinhood that navigated sociotechnical barriers that marked the investing and broader financial industry. The primary objective was following a broader push from “retail” or first- time investors seeking widely accessible informational resources that fit within their budget constraints. The challenge of building such a platform is discussed in detail in my prospectus, as well as the embedded broader STS problem of a lack of free and affordable resources in an industry clouded with tools only available for institutions. The main vision of the project is to level the playing field between retail investors and institutions in the emerging warrant markets.

The sociotechnical research paper delved into the assumptions made about agents in Robinhood’s website, app, and learning platform to gain insight into maximizing equal access to a diverse set of users. Robinhood’s recent acquisition to increase accountability of major firms and allow smaller voices of most investors – everyday Americans – is discussed at length. The financial services industry primarily caters wealthy market participants; I dive into what shapes this narrative, as well as possible remedies. I also extensively examine factors enabling institutions and wealthy individuals to gain an unfair advantage in investment decision making and outcomes. One. Further, a lack of attention to user experience and design from major investment platforms is reviewed; steep learning curves in various software and resources inhibit newcomers. The case of Robinhood’s story as a retail brokerage is then discussed, shedding a light on what might form a successful technical project as well as breaking down the deep-rooted biases present in the financial services industry today.

In addition, the sociotechnical paper explores concepts that contribute to an environment where incumbents have a material informational advantage over non-accredited retail investors. A range of topics are discussed, including the inability of non-accredited investors to pursue investments in various asset classes. Further, a lack of attention to user experience using existing investment platforms as well as resources utilized by high-budget hedge funds are reviewed. Each of these subtopics was gathered from a survey of the industry landscape, with various sources cited providing more context on the economic and social view of the investing and broader financial services industry.

The results of the technical report will help inform the broader socio-technical issue of lack of equal opportunity and access to information in the financial services and specifically investing markets. By measuring users’ interactions with the web platform, usage trends, and characteristics of user groups the assumptions made in the paper can be fully tested. By exploring design thinking in the STS paper, both projects will shed light on this issue while informing the broader goal of “democratizing” finance.

By working on both projects simultaneously rather than independently, I learned about approaching project development from an STS lens. I believe that by understanding companies with related missions in finance and the broader investments world, I am more aware and informed of the sociological problems that my project could address and what products would work best in the market. If I were to approach both projects in isolation instead, I would have been poorly informed of the users and would have formed arbitrary configurations that would have negatively reduced the appeal and access to such a platform. Additionally, the technical project informed the key issues and stakeholders involved with “democratizing” finance and providing accessible and equal opportunities for emerging investors. Developing this prospectus deeply resonated with me, as I believe institutions should not have an unequal advantage and deep-rooted advantages that keep emerging investors out of opportunities with a lack of access.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
Investing, Financial Markets, Warrants, SPACs

School of Engineering and Applied Science

Bachelor of Science in Computer Science

Technical Advisor: Daniel Graham

STS Advisor: Joshua Earle

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