Are you wondering how to rebuild a car engine, make lasagna, apply eyeliner or build a castle in Minecraft? Millions of Americans get their answers from “influencers” on social media. And now a growing crowd of “finfluencers” — a portmanteau of the phrase “financial influencers” — are vying to become your investing gurus.
Search “investing” or a related term on Instagram, TikTok, YouTube or any other major social media platform, and you’ll get thousands of posts from a dizzying array of creators. You’ll see videos of investors flaunting wads of cash, driving Lamborghinis or flashing screenshots purportedly showing big profits from options trading, cryptocurrencies or “passive income” investing strategies. You’ll also see investing basics demonstrated with card tricks, comedy skits or dance celebrations. There are posts from finance professionals and amateur investors, twentysomethings and sixtysomethings, and members of all types of affinity groups. And, of course, you’ll also find posts from media outlets like Kiplinger.
The most popular investing social media mavens have amassed millions of followers and are earning millions of dollars from advertisements, sponsorships, book sales, and membership and consulting fees. Many are succeeding for good reason: They provide sound advice in entertaining ways.
For Denise Berkhalter, a 51-year-old single mother of two who works at a nonprofit, the fun, high-energy videos by former Wall Street trader Vivian Tu (whose “Your Rich BFF” TikTok account has 2.5 million followers) provided encouragement for her to maximize her employer’s retirement plan match and maintain both a regular and a Roth IRA. Berkhalter plows much of the money into the kinds of broad index funds that Tu recommends. “She’s hilarious,” says Berkhalter. “She’s relatable. She takes the time to break things down into understandable bite sizes. And she’s willing to talk about her own mistakes, which is helpful because you realize you don’t have to be perfect.”
But some influencers promote strategies that are inappropriate for many, if not most, investors. Worse: Social media platforms are also rife with scamsters. Federal regulations require influencers to clearly label any posts for which they are being paid and bar misleading statements or frauds, such as “pump-and-dump” schemes in which influencers secretly sell shares in stocks they are hyping to their followers. And the government has pursued some high-profile influencers.
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has extracted millions of dollars collectively from celebrities including Kim Kardashian and Lindsay Lohan to settle charges that they improperly failed to disclose they were being paid to promote cryptocurrencies on their social media feeds on Instagram and Twitter (now known as X). The SEC has also charged several popular finfluencers with running pump-and-dump schemes. And, undoubtedly, a lot escapes scrutiny. So many people are now making investment-related content that “it is literally not possible” for budget-constrained federal regulators to monitor and police all of it on all social media platforms, says Ankush Khardori, a former federal prosecutor who specialized in financial crimes. Even if you don’t take investing advice from social media stars, you should be aware of the landscape because the odds are that your friends and relatives do.
A study by Finra, the self-regulatory organization for brokers, found that 60% of investors younger than 35 get investing information from social media. Videos with the hashtag #investing have garnered an astonishing 16 billion views on TikTok since its 2016 launch, for example. What’s more, social media investing frenzies can significantly impact the values of stocks in your portfolio (recall the mayhem in GameStop and other “meme” stocks engineered by Reddit users in 2021).
To help you navigate this new frontier for financial advice, we dived into the world of finfluencers, starting with FinCon 2023, the annual confab for personal finance content creators. It’s a vast universe. But here, we highlight some of the better-known social media accounts, along with a few not-so-famous selections. We’ve included a breakdown of finfluencers’ financial incentives that can help you suss out any potential hidden agendas or biases. We’ve also assembled a list of red flags from experts to help you stay safe online.
The evolution of finfluence
The Oxford English Dictionary defines an influencer as “a person who has become well-known through use of the internet and social media, and uses celebrity to endorse products … often for payment.” The word finfluencer may be a new coinage, but it just describes the latest evolution of long-standing marketing and outreach efforts by financial advisers and personal finance media professionals. After all, Vanguard founder Jack Bogle amplified his index fund investing message by publishing books. Ric Edelman attracted clients to his financial planning firm by hosting a finance-focused radio show. Jim Cramer left his hedge fund to host the Mad Money television show and encourage viewers to buy his investing books and pay the membership fee for his investing club.
It’s not surprising that many professional financial advisers are trying to use social media to recruit new clients. A few have developed large fan bases. Brad Klontz, a Hawaii-based certified financial planner and author of books on the psychology of money, has nearly 1 million TikTok followers. Among his most popular videos is one showing him wearing a baseball cap and sunglasses, walking the streets of Boulder, Colorado, and talking into a microphone about how “you’ll be poor forever if you do these three things” (one of which is day-trading). Other social media gurus who still call investment advising their day job include Brian Preston and Bo Hanson, certified financial planners at Abound Wealth Management in Franklin, Tennessee. They host “The Money Guy Show,” which has amassed more than 78 million views cumulatively in its 12 years on YouTube. The episodes generally run from 15 minutes to an hour and feature the two sitting at desks, taking calls, conducting interviews and discussing topics such as allocations to international stocks, as well as broader personal finance issues such as the outlook for real estate and reactions to Dave Ramsey’s advice.
Jennifer Lammer, a registered investment adviser in Scarsdale, New York, posts 10- to 20-minute detailed looks at fixed-income investments such as bonds and CDs in her “Diamond NestEgg” YouTube channel, launched in mid-2020. Her posts, such as “The 8 safest banks,” have collectively received more than 12 million views.
The largest group of finfluencers today is made up of personalities who offer broad personal finance advice. Investing typically makes up only a fraction of their offerings and tends to be aimed at beginners. Some of the most popular of these are former finance professionals. Vivian Tu, who posts as “Your Rich BFF,” spent two years as a trader at J.P. Morgan before starting to post short financial advice videos on TikTok during the COVID lockdowns. Her goal, she says, is to “make finance fun-ance.” In a recent post that has nearly 2 million views, she explains how regular investors can copy a tax move used by pop star Drake to seed his kid’s Roth IRA. Drake hired his son to produce album art, then funneled his earnings into a custodial Roth IRA for the child. Tu suggested noncelebrity parents can hire their kids to work in a family business and use that income to invest in a custodial Roth IRA, where it can grow tax-free. (Or they could invest earnings from, say, babysitting, cutting grass or other odd jobs.) Tu recommends S&P 500 index funds.
Humphrey Yang, who spent a year as a financial adviser at Merrill Lynch, has 3.3 million TikTok followers and 1.2 million YouTube subscribers who eat up his short videos on everything from the economics of buying an electric bike to the impossibility of timing the stock market. In one he examines what he considers the “four worst investments” — low-paying savings accounts, whole life insurance, mutual funds that charge sales fees, and triple-leveraged exchange-traded funds, which are funds that borrow against their holdings so their prices move three times as much as the index they track. YouTube says that collectively, Yang’s 571 videos have been viewed more than 271 million times.
Marko Zlatic studied finance in college and worked as a car salesman, and then as a credit analyst at a bank. In late 2017, he started posting YouTube videos in which he explained a specific aspect of personal finance by writing on a whiteboard with a marker while throwing in a few jokes to keep things light. Some of his early videos, such as one on “How car dealers rip you off,” went viral. By 2019, Zlatic’s “WhiteBoard Finance” channel was earning enough that he could quit his job. His library includes investing-oriented posts, such as one explaining how he built a SEP IRA, with some input from viewers. He calculates the IRA, invested in low-cost ETFs from Vanguard and others, will pay an income of $1,000 a month in retirement. Zlatic’s library, of about 300 videos, has collected more than 61 million views.
Some of the most popular finfluencers come from outside the financial world. Many say they were motivated to start posting because they overcame financial struggles themselves and wanted to share hope and strategies with those facing similar challenges.
Andrei Jikh’s parents were Cirque du Soleil acrobats who struggled with debt. Jikh started his career as a magician but also studied investing on his own. He built a $200,000 nest egg, and in 2019 he started posting videos about what he learned, spicing some of them up with magic tricks. Along with bullish posts about cryptocurrencies, Jikh shares his dividend-investing strategy, which focuses on index funds and Dividend Aristocrats such as Realty Income. (Aristocrats are stocks with at least a 25-year history of raising dividends; Realty Income is a member of the Kiplinger Dividend 15, the list of our favorite dividend payers.) Jikh’s videos have more than 283 million views.
Another major group of finfluencers consists of analysts using the new media platforms to launch what are, essentially, modern investing newsletters. Robert Ross was a stock analyst for the newsletter firm Mauldin Economics in 2019 when he started experimenting with short investing videos on what was then a relatively new social media platform, TikTok. The niche was so new that he was able to snag one of the cleverest user names: Tik.stocks. Many of his stock-analysis videos and meme-laced takes on hedge funds’ holdings went viral. A skit warning against buying stock with margin loans has garnered more than 2 million views. Within 15 months, Ross was earning enough from sponsorships and subscriptions to quit his job. He still delivers some tips on his free account. But today, nearly 800 of his followers are paying at least $19.99 a month to see Ross’ personal portfolio and investments, grossing him about $14,000 monthly.
“This is the next natural iteration of an industry that has been around for 100 years — the newsletter. It’s just a video version,” he says.
The ease of posting online has enabled self-taught analysts to reach large audiences as well. In late 2020, Alex Divinsky, who majored in electrical engineering and worked as a rocket analyst and media strategist, started posting his analyses of tech stocks on his YouTube channel “Ticker Symbol: YOU.” His first 11 videos got only a few hundred views each. His 12th got more than 40,000 and put Divinsky on many investors’ radar. In it, he explained why he thought Tesla’s autonomous driving software, trained on billions of miles’ worth of driving data from its cars, would eventually translate into massive profit for the company. After eight months of weekly posts, Divinsky’s channel became so popular he was on track to earn a six-figure annual income from ads and sponsorships. His 10- to 30-minute posts typically explore a company held by one of the tech-oriented funds managed by ARK Investments. In a recent post, Divinsky spliced in slides, video clips and documents from company presentations and other sources to explain why he thinks Nvidia will continue to dominate the market for chips used in the booming artificial intelligence sector. Overall, Divinsky has amassed more than 27 million views.
Low barriers to entry can lead to scams
The low barriers to entry have also been exploited by scamsters plying some of Wall Street’s oldest scams. For example, a group of day traders associated with a company called Atlas Trading each built up six-figure fan bases on platforms such as Twitter, YouTube and the gaming chat platform Discord by claiming expertise in “penny stocks,” which are the stocks of small companies with share prices below $5. The traders, who often posted pictures of their Lamborghinis and luxury watches, told their followers they were sharing their insights for free “to help millions of traders.”
But the SEC says it has recordings of group members conspiring to hype certain stocks so that they can quietly sell at a profit. The SEC alleges the group made more than $100 million from 2020 through their 2022 indictment by “pumping and dumping.” In one recording cited by the SEC, Daniel Knight, a cohost of a popular penny stock podcast who had 171,000 Twitter followers under the handle @DipDeity, allegedly said, “We’re robbing f***ing idiots of their money…. It’s market manipulation.” Knight pleaded guilty to securities fraud in March 2023. His co-defendants are scheduled for trial in early 2024.
Finfluencers find their niche
Many finfluencers tailor personal finance and investing advice to specific groups. Several aim their advice at women, for example.
Tori Dunlap’s “her first 100k” TikTok account features short videos encouraging women to improve their earnings and wealth — or, as she puts it: “Fight the patriarchy. Get rich.” Dunlap has amassed 2.4 million followers since 2020. Her podcast, “Financial Feminist,” features interviews and discussions of investing basics, as well as topics such as “negotiating like a woman” and “overcoming financial anxiety.” It is one of the 20 most popular business-related podcasts in the U.S., according to Chartable, a company that tracks the podcasting industry.
Haley Sacks, whose “mrs dow jones” Instagram account has more than 831,000 followers, mixes travel and shopping tips with explanations of Roth IRAs and other investing basics.
Hundreds of influencers focus on other communities. Yanely Espinal, the daughter of Hispanic immigrants, started posting YouTube videos as “MissBeHelpful” after being inspired by a Suze Orman book to cut her expenses to free up cash from her educator’s salary to pay off $20,000 in credit card debt and build her savings. Espinal appreciated Orman’s discussion of finances for women but couldn’t find anyone addressing many of the issues faced in her community. For example, she said, “No one was talking about remittances [sending money to family in other countries] as part of the budget.” Espinal’s videos have more than 4.4 million views, and last May she published a book entitled Mind Your Money. It includes a chapter about investing challenges faced by immigrants and people of color, such as language barriers that can make financial dealings more confusing.
“When your life has been transformed, you don’t want to hold it in. You feel a calling to help other people transform their lives,” she says.
Julien and Kiersten Saunders post videos and slides on Instagram, where their “richandregular” account has almost 34,000 followers (they also have a couple of podcasts). The couple tailor advice for achieving financial independence to African- Americans and they tackle thorny issues such as racism and wage gaps. They like to share their own story of paying off $200,000 in debt over five years and then saving enough to quit their corporate jobs by the time they turned 40. Their 2022 book, Cashing Out, lays out steps African Americans can take to earn, save and invest enough to be able to walk away from the corporate grind. The Saunderses also explore topics such as investing in bonds and concepts such as short-term trading versus long-term investing.
Some finfluencers address groups ignored by social media’s youth culture.
“Within the YouTube world, I saw people in their twenties talking about making money quickly by day trading. I didn’t see much for a man in his forties” who believed in “getting rich slowly,” says Tae Kim, a 42-year-old father of two. In 2021, he started posting YouTube videos about his own family’s budgeting and investing strategies, calling himself a “financial tortoise.” Despite posts with yawn-inducing titles like “The Very Boring Life of a Quiet Millionaire,” Kim’s fan base grew rapidly. He quit his job as director of finance for a group of charter schools and is now a full-time finfluencer. He has collected 134,000 subscribers and racked up nearly 9 million total views. Kim, who describes himself as “an index-fund guy,” posted recently about the “10 Best ETFs for Building Wealth.” On his list: Vanguard Total Stock Market and Total World Stock, as well as BlackRock’s iShares Morningstar US Equity and State Street Global Advisors’ SPDR Portfolio S&P 1500 Composite Stock Market.
Rob Berger, a retired attorney, couldn’t find much on YouTube that was no-nonsense, practical financial advice for those who, like him, were over the age of 50. So he started posting analyses of asset-allocation options for retirees, discussions of target date funds and reviews of various online investing and retirement tools. He says his YouTube channel is “kind of the opposite of what I saw on YouTube.” There are no memes or dances. Berger simply sits at a desk, speaks into the camera, and shares his computer screen. His videos have more than 13 million views.
How finfluencers make money
The most popular finfluencers, such as most of those mentioned above, are reaping hefty profits. But they are the exception. An April 2023 Goldman Sachs analysis estimated that no more than 4% of all content creators earn more than $100,000 a year from their social media efforts. Many finfluencers say the combination of viewer behavior and platform incentives make it especially difficult to earn back their costs, let alone a living, by posting nuanced, realistic advice.
Finfluencers have four main ways of profiting. They can receive a share of the social media platform’s advertising revenue; land a corporate sponsorship; negotiate “affiliate” contracts that pay commissions if viewers click links or buy recommended products; or receive payments from followers buying exclusive content, courses, coaching, books or other products or services.
The first step for any finfluencer, of course, is to gather as many fans and viewers as possible, which can set up a conflict between providing sound advice and capitalizing on traffic that typically flows to posts promising quick solutions or guaranteed money. For example, Espinal says one of her most popular posts — with nearly 300,000 views — was a video on how to quickly improve a credit score. In comparison, a video exploring the challenges immigrants face in investing has received fewer than 2,000 views. “People are so desperate for quick solutions and immediate gratification,” says Espinal. So, she says, “I walk a fine line,” trying to come up with ideas that will attract attention but saying no to topics or sponsorships that don’t align with her vision.
Adding to the perverse incentives: Platforms such as YouTube adjust the amount creators receive from ad revenue based on how valuable the viewers of the topic seem to advertisers. For example, Divinsky says he earns about $30 for every thousand views of each of his tech-investing YouTube videos. He says that’s about four times more than creators receive for content related to more popular lifestyle subjects, such as cooking. And within the investing niche, creators who want to reap top ad dollars are producing videos on options trading, which pays at an even higher rate. Divinsky says he’s passing up that premium because he does not want to promote risky trading strategies.
The struggle to land sponsors or develop premium services that align with their values can be exhausting for content creators. Some platforms, such as TikTok, make it difficult to receive any share of ad revenue or to profit from affiliate links. Creators on those platforms can only try to get direct sponsorships or sell premium services. Kayla Kilbride amassed nearly 250,000 fans for her “Girls Talk Stocks” skits and explainers on TikTok. That success attracted sponsors, and in 2021, she was one of dozens of finfluencers offered contracts by FTX, the now defunct and disgraced cryptocurrency company. There was no way she could know at the time about the company’s hidden problems. But Kilbride says the inherent conflict between providing good advice and seeking corporate sponsorships is one reason she has decided to step back from finfluencing. “At the end of the day, you are selling your audience out,” she says. And although lifestyle influencers do the same thing, the difference between saying “Buy this makeup” and “Put your retirement savings in this brokerage” or “Put your child’s college fund here” is huge. If financial advice blows up, says Kilbride, the consequences are far more dire than wasting money on a tube of lipstick.
Because anybody can turn on their cell phone camera and dish about anything, web surfers should be very picky about taking any online financial advice. Social media advice, by its nature, is general and not tailored to your specific situation, says Bri Conn, who is studying to be a certified financial planner while working for a Mississippi-based investment advisory firm.
“Often, the issue isn’t that the idea is wrong. It just doesn’t match your life,” she says. So if you’re looking for investment advice, go ahead and enjoy the video of someone twerking as they rattle off investment returns. But then do your own homework.
Red flags to watch out for
Social media platforms are filled with persuasive posts from finfluencers promising to let you in on investing secrets. And it’s illegal to make false or misleading statements about investments or to secretly accept payments for endorsing any kind of product or service. Nevertheless, investor protection experts urge caution regarding any investment advice, whatever its source. “If they really made so much money on an investment, I don’t know why they are telling you about it,” says Jill Lazar, director of investor protection for Delaware.
Because a large number of finfluencers are trying so many new approaches to content creation and investing advice, a lot is flying under regulators’ radar. Lazar suggests that web surfers report social media accounts if they think they cross the line into deception. At the very least, say investor protection officials, attorneys and even some finfluencers, click away from posts that feature any of these red flags:
Promises or guarantees.
Beware any pitch that says “This is how to go from $0 to $100,000 in two years” or makes similar promises of profits, says Amy Sochard, vice president of Finra’s Advertising Regulation Department (who notes she’s speaking for herself, not Finra).
Be skeptical of traders hyping stocks that are thinly traded or have a small “float” (the number of shares available to trade), says Paul Eckert, a retired securities attorney who now teaches at the William & Mary Law School.
“Even if they don’t have a big following, it doesn’t take too many idiots to push up the price of a small float stock,” enabling an ill-intentioned finfluencer to cash out at your expense, he says.
“If they are promising returns of more than 10% a year [about the long-term historical average for the S&P 500 index], forget it,” says Meb Faber, chief investment officer of Cambria Investment Management. His YouTube interview series has more than 1.1 million views.
Flaunting signs of wealth.
Flashing wads of cash, luxury items or screenshots of big profits are “big red flags. Rich people don’t act like that. Wealth whispers,” says Robert Ross, whose Tik.stocks account was one of the first investing-focused TikTok accounts.
Don’t let anyone scare you into taking a quick financial action, advises Ross. “Doom and gloom really get the clicks,” but it doesn’t necessarily make for a good long-term strategy, he says.
Note: This item first appeared in Kiplinger's Personal Finance Magazine, a monthly, trustworthy source of advice and guidance. Subscribe to help you make more money and keep more of the money you make.
Kim Clark is a veteran financial journalist who has worked at Fortune, U.S News & World Report and Money magazines. She was part of a team that won a Gerald Loeb award for coverage of elder finances, and she won the Education Writers Association's top magazine investigative prize for exposing insurance agents who used false claims about college financial aid to sell policies. As a Kiplinger Fellow at Ohio State University, she studied delivery of digital news and information. Most recently, she worked as a deputy director of the Education Writers Association, leading the training of higher education journalists around the country. She is also a prize-winning gardener, and in her spare time, picks up litter.
Leap Day: Financial Pros and Cons
2024 is a leap year and this Thursday February 29 a leap day, giving you one more day to achieve your goals — and pay interest on your loans.
By Donna LeValley Published
Why I Still Won't Buy Gold: Glassman
One reason I won't buy gold is because while stocks rise briskly over time – not every month or year, but certainly every decade – gold does not.
By James K. Glassman Published
More States Are Offering Family Leave
Increasingly, states are stepping in to offer family leave options for caregivers.
By Sandra Block Published
How Net Unrealized Appreciation Helps Save More of Your Retirement Savings
If you have employer stock in your 401(k), net unrealized appreciation is a strategy to minimize your taxes.
By Joy Taylor Published
What Every Woman Needs to Know Before Retiring
A look at how women need to prepare differently than men for retirement due to factors like longevity and earnings.
By Jennifer Waters Published
Your Guide to Planning a Long Vacation
Going on an extended getaway can deepen the benefits of traveling. Here’s how to plan a long vacation — without busting your budget.
By Laura Petrecca Published
Switch to a Smaller Mobile Provider to Cut Your Phone Bill
AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon dominate the mobile wireless market, but it pays to shop around. We review the options from the smaller outfits.
By Ashlyn Brooks Last updated
How Identity Thieves Are Exploiting Your Trust
Con artists are finding new and unexpected ways to take your money and personal information. Here's what to do about it.
By Sandra Block Published
Six of the Best Budgeting Apps
Popular budgeting app Mint is shutting down. We've found some alternative options.
By Ella Vincent Published
More Americans Are Saying No to Full-Time Retirement
Increasingly, people say they plan to keep working their entire lives.
By David Crook Published