Should You Trust Finfluencers? 5 Ways to Spot the Gurus and the Grifters
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Is 2022 the year of the ‘finfluencer’? During financial literacy month, we want to help our readers become more confident with their finances. This means offering resources, important definitions, and, sometimes, cautionary messages. When a new trend appears in the finance world, we want to make sure you hear about it from the right people first.
What is a finfluencer?
Generally referring to a group of TikTokers and Youtubers in the Gen Z and young Millennial brackets, finfluencers are people with public platforms offering advice and sharing personal experiences about money. Their videos cover budgeting, investing, property buying, cryptocurrency advice, financial trend tracking, and more.
The external reception to this new brand of influencer is mixed. Many urge caution towards lack of credibility and get rich quick schemes, which some finfluencers are known for. Responding to the trend, the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has warned social media sites and video hosting platforms to observe the rise in risky financial advice being promoted via popular finfluencer channels and profiles.
Why should you be wary of finfluencers?
Finfluencers, like any trend, should be approached with an awareness of the history of unsolicited advice by people with varying degrees of professionalism. This kind of advice often falls under the umbrella of ‘self-improvement’ and takes the form of quick fixes, secrets that the professionals don’t want you to know, and expensive, untested elixirs or powders advertised by sponsored celebrities.
We can trace the trend back to mid-19th century ‘snake oil’ salesmen, who claimed to sell the oil of Chinese water snakes. While snake oil may have actually had beneficial qualities, the vials sold by these salesmen were anything but, containing instead useless minerals and liquids—even dangerous drugs.
The internet is rife with snake oil salespeople and in addition to vials of mysterious elixirs, you’re also being sold advice. With platforms like TikTok, Instagram, and Youtube making millionaires out of their most subscribed-to channels, advice and opinions pay big.
There’s no shame in seeking advice. Managing your finances is stressful, and confident young professionals promising to have answers is a tantalising salve. It’s your job to determine who’s worth listening to and who’s selling snake oil.
Fortunately, you have some trusted experts on your side. Financial literacy month is all about empowering you with the financial knowledge to live the life you want. Knowing who to trust on finance is a big part of that.
What should you look for in finfluencers?
The purpose of this article isn’t to list the best and worst finfluencers out there today. There are too many and such a list would be like giving you a fish to feed yourself for one day. Instead, we’re going to teach you how to fish: below are the 5 key aspects you should look for in any finfluencer—or even professional financial advisor.
In their media release detailing a ‘guide for finfluencers’, New Zealand’s Financial Markets Authority (FMA) urges consumers: ‘If in doubt, professional financial advice from a licensed advice provider is likely a good idea’.
Trust your gut
The first thing you should trust is your gut. If a finfluencer’s recommendation seems risky or they lack conviction behind their advice on an important aspect of your personal finance, pivot away from free advice and seek a trained professional.
Watch for disclaimers
Determining credibility in finfluencers can be tricky. Many finfluencers will include a disclaimer in their videos, assuring viewers that they are not a financial advisor and that they are not giving financial advice. This is good to look for, because it will remind you that what you’re viewing is ultimately the personal experience of an individual, a kind of public finance diary.
Do a background check
Look further into any finfluencer you come across. What is their educational background? Do they have a degree in finance? Do they have a business, or is their revenue solely from their social media channels? Do they have books published on the topic? Have they done any work with professionals, such as podcast interviews, radio or television spots, or guest blog posts on reputable finance-related websites?
Any public figure giving financial advice will likely make their credentials easy to find. Know who you’re dealing with and base your trust on their credibility.
2. Form of advice
This goes both ways. What advice are you looking for and what kind of advice are they giving?
What advice do you need?
Say you find yourself in a difficult financial situation. Perhaps you’re thinking about whether to invest in a property for the first time. You don’t have a lot of money and you might need to rely on this investment for years to come. You’ll need to know about property markets of the regions in which you’re looking, the housing overall market, the property’s condition, the real estate company you’re buying from—you have lots of work ahead of you. In this situation, a finfluencer giving generic advice or telling you which property market is hot is not going to be useful.
For something this serious, you need a professional to look at your financial situation in depth and offer the knowledge they have on property investing in your chosen region.
You’re looking for an expert-proven deep dive into financial topics?
What advice are they giving?
The same attention should be paid to finfluencers. Some of these content creators are sharing personal stories and experiences without giving advice. This can be a good thing. Talking about money is important and these videos can give viewers the vocabulary to articulate their own situations or steer them in the direction to do more research on a topic.
However, if you find a cryptocurrency influencer telling you to buy into bitcoin before the market crashes because it worked for him and a few of his friends, take a step back. Where is this advice coming from? How many people are already doing what they suggest and how will that influence the market? Above all: why does this person want you to follow their advice, if they don’t know you and aren’t personally invested in your situation?
3. The right platform
You might think the only platforms for finfluencers are Instagram, TikTok, and Youtube. This isn’t the case, however, and considering the platform from which the advice is coming can be a useful way of determining how you should take it.
Youtube and TikTok
Youtube and TikTok will occasionally ban or make statements about dangerous creators and alter their video hosting rules in response, but, to be frank, they do this when the damage has already been done. TikTok now prohibits promotion of any financial services products, because of risks involved in allowing content creators to do this. But this was long after TikTok had already benefited from such content and promotion in the past.
Try other platforms
Expanding the platforms on which you look for finfluencers will in turn expand the idea of the finfluencer and clarify who deserves the label. Audible’s list of audiobooks from finfluencers is a good example. As a platform, Audible publishes books from professional advisors and authors, often with extensive research, professional opinions, and lived experience. In this way, Audible is a trustworthy platform because they have invested capital and resources into their content. Youtube and TikTok do not invest in their creators. They merely provide a platform.
For more free and affordable resources from professionals in finance, see our resources article as a part of this series for financial literacy month.
Experience is similar to credibility, but there are distinct differences. Where credibility is concerned with occupation, education, and output, experience speaks more broadly to the way a person has conducted themselves in their career over time.
For instance, if you were choosing a tour guide to escort you on a potentially dangerous hike through the jungle, would you look to the guide who has a PhD in touring, or the guide who has years of successful tours to her name, grew up in the area, and knows the path like the back of her hand?
Finfluencers (mostly) aren’t professionals
Part of the appeal of finfluencers is that they aren’t professionals. Content creators, particularly on video hosting platforms and social media, develop a kind of relationship with their followers. The intimacy of their videos is often a reason they garner trust through one-sided interactions. We are often inclined to take advice from people we know because we believe they care about us. Finfluencers can have this effect. Remain aware of this when you feel yourself swayed by the advice of a content creator you follow.
Taking age into account
The experience of a finfluencer must be considered because the trend of these advice-givers skews young. While these generations are tech savvy and probably know a lot more than your parents about cryptocurrency and NFTs, consider the likelihood that they’ve had to make big financial decisions. Will they have gone through the process of buying a property? Maintaining a good credit rating? Saving for their pension?
Try to find out what experience a finfluencer has with money and decide if it is relevant to your own.
As this Guardian article on the pitfalls of the finfluencer trend points out, ‘popularity does not equal success’. Hundreds of thousands or millions of subscribers attached to a content creator’s name is a tricky marker of trust. If so many people are keeping up with this person’s advice-based content, they must be dispensing good advice, right?
But what does social media popularity really signify? When you consider the percentage of followers who hit follow after liking one video and don’t keep up with the rest of their content; the ones who enjoy the videos as entertainment; the ones who have never taken any of the person’s advice, you’re probably left with a small number who have put that finfluencer’s advice into practice.
Popularity on social media and video hosting platforms is not the same as a professional resume or testimonials from satisfied clients. It speaks more to likeability and the entertainment factor than it does the legitimacy of their advice.
We don’t want to condemn all finfluencers to the history books as merely a modern form of snake oil selling. What we want is for you and for our customers to be critical about the advice they receive and to remain educated on all matters of finance.
When a trend arises, however, it attracts all kinds. Some want to help you, others want you to help them. The crowding of opinions makes it difficult to parse through and find the ones who have genuine value. Keep these categories in mind and stay alert to new trends in 2022.
Keep improving your financial literacy with our content on finance books, finance podcasts, finance news, and finance apps.
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