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What is a financial influencer and how do we know we can trust them?

he TikTok logo is seen on a mobile phone in front of a computer screen which displays the TikTok home screen, Saturday, March 18, 2023, in Boston.
he TikTok logo is seen on a mobile phone in front of a computer screen which displays the TikTok home screen, Saturday, March 18, 2023, in Boston. Copyright Michael Dwyer/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
Copyright Michael Dwyer/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
By Indrabati Lahiri
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About one third of Gen Zers now turn to social media and financial influencers for money tips, according to Intuit Credit Karma. However, this also comes with regulatory challenges for those sharing them.

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Financial influencers, or finfluencers, as they are better known on social media, have seen a meteoric rise in the last few years. 

One third of Gen Z people now look towards these influencers, especially on TikTok, for financial advice, instead of traditional financial or portfolio advisors, according to research by Intuit Credit Karma. This has also led to the rise of financial TikTok, or FinTok. 

According to the above research, 52% of UK adults say they would be open to using a savings tip from social media, with trends such as penny saving, loud budgeting, 52-week challenge and no-spend weekend challenge being some of the most common. 

Financial literacy isn't hard- you just haven't been taught

As such, finfluencers have a lot of room to explore different niches when it comes to sharing financial tips. 

Vivian Tu (@yourrichbff) has 2.5 million followers on TikTok and helps people "level up their personal finance knowledge". She talks about career upgrading, investing, budgeting, saving, and spending with purpose, amongst other things and also makes complex economic concepts more palatable for the layman audience. 

She has also been been a trader at JP Morgan. At that time, she was not looking for a career change, she just wanted to be able to eat her lunch in peace. Then financial influencing came calling. 

"I started making these videos for my co-workers who needed finance and money pointers. I thought that it would be a way for them to stop taking up my lunch hour to help them rebalance their 401(k)s. [A A 401(k) is a workplace pension or a SIPP, a self-invested personal pension]. As it turns out, a lot more people needed that information than I thought!"

Since then, she has made it her mission to bring money tips to "anyone who has ever felt left out or talked down to by the financial system." Women, people with low incomes and people of colour make up the bulk of her audience. 

Coming to the challenges of financial influencing, Tu points out that making your mark in the sea of content out there is still one of the hardest things to do. 

"A lot of people are able to post financial content on the internet, but a lot of it is sensationalised. It can be difficult for people to sift through the information available to figure out what's right and what's just made up. 

"I would challenge every single consumer of financial content to fact check everything they see, even if it's from me. Make sure you can find a reputable source that corroborates what you're being told in a 60-second video."

Tu also notes that social media engagement dynamics and analytics need to change, with controversial videos often doing very well and gaining more visibility due to the amount of comments they receive, refuting the content's claims. What this does is suppress videos with actually helpful content, which may not have had as much engagement from viewers. 

Her key takeaway? "Being able to achieve financial literacy isn't hard, you just haven't been taught."

Financial education is a woman's best form of protest

Tori Dunlap (@herfirst100k) is well established in the financial influencing game, with a website, a podcast and 2.4 million followers on TikTok. She describes herself as a financial feminist, sharing insights on financial wellness, mostly for women, believing that "we are here to build women's confidence, make women rich, and smash the patriarchy along the way".

Finance has become too "bro-coded", according to her, with the voices of "old white men" prioritised over anyone else's. 

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Like several influencers, Dunlap held down a corporate job before taking the plunge into social media. She says: "In 2019, I quit my corporate job in marketing to start Her First $100K to fight financial inequality by giving women actionable resources to improve their wealth. 

"What began as an idea after saving $100,000 by the time I was 25 has transformed into a full-fledged movement, helping more than five million women improve their finances by negotiating their salaries, paying off debt, building savings and investing. This year, I am turning 30 as a self-made millionaire, host of the #1 business podcast, Financial Feminist; author of the New York Times bestselling book: Financial Feminist."

She believes "a financial education is a women's best form of protest, so prioritise your financial wellness by making more, spending less and feeling financially confident".

All the best financial advice can be written on an index card

Nick Meyer (@nicktalksmoney) has 1.1 million TikTok followers and shares insights on personal finance topics such as budgeting, investing, credit cards and employee benefits such as stock options and more. 

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Talking about his influencing journey, he says: "I started posting videos on TikTok on nights and weekends in 2020, while working my day job as a financial advisor. There was enough sponsorship interest from brands by December 2021 to quit my day job and go all-in on content creation. 

"Since then, I've worked with 100+ leading financial brands on influencer marketing campaigns. While I still maintain my creator presence, a good deal of my time these days is focused on building my company that helps financial advisors and institutions create high quality short-form video content in-house."

Meyer highlights that he wants to share advice that would be helpful to a younger version of him, such as people entering the workforce, or still in the early career stage. Often, these are also people who may not have been taught much about personal finance through the education system or by their parents. 

Nick Meyer has over 1.1 million TikTok followers and shares personal finance tips on investing, saving, credit cards and more.
Nick Meyer has over 1.1 million TikTok followers and shares personal finance tips on investing, saving, credit cards and more.Tim Gillies/Tim Gillies

Like other influencers, Meyer is also concerned about the upcoming TikTok ban in the US, given that over half of his 1.8 million followers use the platform. 

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"Long-term, I'm not too concerned even if TikTok does go away, because all those eyeballs have to go somewhere, so I could likely build up my following across the other platforms even more. However, in the short-term, this uncertainty has certainly affected brand partnerships (much less interest in advertising on TikTok now)."

Talking about what social media platforms could do to help financial influencers, he believes they could make it easier for influencers to connect with financial services brands who want to sponsor creator content. 

They can also classify the content created by finfluencers as educational, similar to the content generated by science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) creators. Along with that, Meyer believes that most platforms could also make it easier for creators to add affiliate links. 

"All the best financial advice could be written on a single index card: if you don't overcomplicate things and think long-term, it's hard to lose."

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Financial influencing niches are on the rise

Since FinTok's boom, several influencers have found it much easier to settle into a particular niche of financial influencing, mainly talking about concepts such as loud budgeting, financial independence, retire early (FIRE), side hustles and more. 

This is hardly restricted to TikTok, with financial influencers on X (formerly known as Twitter) also popular.  

Ravi Handa has almost 40,000 X followers and speaks about the FIRE movement, having retired a couple of years ago, at the age of 39. His content is mainly targeted towards people in their mid 30s who are in the higher tax brackets. 

His key motto is: "Invest in low cost index funds to achieve financial independence."

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However, he points out, declining attention spans amidst viewers remains a vital concern for content creators, with most people being likely to only look at the title of a video before scrolling away. This in turn, makes it more challenging for creators to come up with ever snappier and more engaging content. 

Similarly, Nick Loper, who has more than 31,000 subscribers on YouTube, speaks about side hustles. He also has a blog called Side Hustle Nation. 

Sharing his journey, he says: "The early years were very slow, and I didn't make much money, but I'm glad I stuck with it. It's been tremendously rewarding, and I'm so grateful to be able to do what I do. 

"I've connected with hundreds of inspiring entrepreneurs and helped impact countless lives by sharing their stories and positive messages."

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Like other creators, Nick is worried about fighting for attention in a noisy world and how to best leverage his business to take advantage of social media. Platforms can also implement algorithms changes that can erode years of progress instantly, while it is ever more difficult to build a business that is more than just a personal brand.

Are regulators cracking down harder on finfluencers?

Although financial influencers have been credited with making financial knowledge more accessible, easier to understand and fun, this has also led to more regulatory scrutiny. 

Several influencers have been accused of questionable work ethics and practices, such as doing sponsored posts, but not being adequately transparent about them. A lot of financial influencers may also have little to no professional certifications, which can make it even more dangerous to blindly follow them without doing one's own research and fact checking. 

Some financial influencers may also recommend risky assets such as cryptocurrency or property, which should be viewed with a certain degree of cynicism. The possibility of scams and misleading information has skyrocketed in recent years due to the deluge of information available online. 

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This has led to the UK's Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) cracking down on influencers who promote unauthorised financial promotions or investment schemes. 

Laura Suter, director of personal finance at AJ Bell said, in an email note: "Too many people blindly trust anything they see on social media, but throw in a well-known celeb or a reality TV star endorsing a product and people are even more likely to trust a post. 

"This isn't a huge problem if you buy some dodgy beauty products or sign up to a duff subscription, but if you put your life savings into an investment because someone from the TV said they made impressive returns, that could be life changing. 

"The regulator had already fired the warning shot to so-called "finfluencers", telling them that they were cracking down on misleading social media posts. While the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) didn't introduce any new rules or penalties for those who post misleading content, it tweaked the guidance to give more examples of when social media posts will be compliant or not. 

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"But now, it's clearly ramping up its campaign to keep influencers in line. With a maximum penalty of up to two years in prison and an unlimited fine for breaking the rules, there's no doubt it will make people sit up and listen."

Disclaimer: "This info does not constitute financial advice, always do your own research on top to ensure it's right for your specific circumstances. Also remember, we are a journalistic website and aim to provide the best guides, tips and advice from experts. If you rely on the information on this page then you do so entirely at your own risk."

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