Social media’s financial gurus are setting a new trend as young money advisors. Read on to find out about finfluencers and what to watch for regarding this trend.
According to a Statista report, the global influencer market – where personal opinions are shared or advice is given about fashion, gadgets, beauty, health, parenting, and finance through social media – grew more than eightfold in just half a decade, surging from $1.7 billion in 2016 to $14 billion in 2021. The steepest growth happened after 2019 when the market size was just $6.5 billion. These latest few years have also seen an explosion in fintech, access to the internet, and the emergence of millions of new and young investors entering the financial markets – a time ripe for the rise of financial influencers or finfluencers.
What these new investors lacked was financial literacy and what most business news channels provided was market updates. So-called finfluencers appeared to fill in this education gap. Mostly encompassing a host of TikTokers and Youtubers in Generation Z (Gen Z) or younger Millennials, finfluencers are people sharing their personal experiences or knowledge about financial matters via their social media accounts. In their videos, finfluencers talk about topics ranging from simple explanations of investment vehicles to money-related lessons one can learn from hit Netflix series such as Squid Game.
In a way, as mentioned above, finfluencers are bridging a gap that is obviously there. Young people would like to have their financial security ensured and have control over their money in the long run. For this, they do need advice – not a piece of advice that would compete with a real education, but one that is complementary and quick. However, one cannot help but remember the famous quote from T.S. Eliot: “Most of the evil in this world is done by people with good intentions.”
The Risk from the Rise of Finfluencers
One apparent risk rising from the proliferation of informal financial advisors is the harm that can be caused by misleading advice. Some of the finfluencers have genuinely valuable experience in managing finances, i.e. investing, saving, or spending. Some of these people are even certified financial professionals who act as a kind of micro business giving consultancy to young people. Yet, some finfluencers are just so young that you wonder when they had the chance to gather sufficient investment experience that they are spreading all over TikTok, Youtube, or Instagram. To make the matters worse, a portion of these self-announced experts can be paid by specific sources in return for promoting, for example, an investment in certain company stock. This kind of intentionally misleading advice not only poses a real risk for young investors but also manipulates and distorts the market and may lead to loss of trust in reliable market players too. As an example of this distortion, consider that in Australia 33 percent of younger Gen Z follow at least one finfluencer on social media platforms, and nearly two-thirds of these change their financial behavior as a result of advice given by those finfluencers.
In some countries such as Australia, regulatory bodies have already reacted to the finfluencer trend and the concerns it brings. For example, Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) – the so-called corporate cop – has recently released a guideline on the legal aspects of discussing financial services and products online. The guidance explains what laws apply to social media finfluencers and states that there are penalties and investors’ risks when relevant financial laws are not complied with. One of the requirements for providing advice about a specific financial product is to hold a Financial Services Licence and most of the finfluencers do not.
The trend is not happening only in Australia but in almost all parts of the world including the United States and India. In places like India, where a great majority of people, especially those living in remote towns, have a very low level of financial literacy, the impact of the finfluencer trend is really more pronounced, be it positive or negative impact. One of the side effects of regulations, such as in Australia, could be to remove authentically beneficial resources from access which would limit affordable financial literacy opportunities for those who need them. However, at least some kind of regulation is necessary to clear authentic financial advice from inaccurate and deceitful ones.
How to Know Whom to Follow
First of all, any new trend, especially the ones developing over social media, needs to be approached skeptically. If you are really inspired by the financial advice videos appearing on your feed, then consider the following checkpoints before making financial decisions based on the influence of finfluencers:
- check whether a finfluencer you are following is licensed to provide financial advice.
- ask yourself whether the advice of that particular person or channel seems to be grounded in real expertise.
- think about whether they disclose any conflicts of interest and who might be paying them.
- see whether this is their first ‘finfluencing’ experience.
- research a bit about their long-term track record keeping in mind that ‘long-term’ is not equal to a few months or years.
Even when you’ve got all the above points covered, keep in mind that this is an extremely new and mostly unregulated trend. It means whatever the experience you go through after following the teachings of a finfluencer, you will be on your own.
Photo: DC Studio/Shutterstock
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