Financial Advice via Social Media – the Rise of the Finfluencer
For many people under 40, interest in social media sources for financial information, rather than traditional media, is a growing trend. Interest in investment apps, robo-advisers, and investment-focused social accounts has surged with Gen Z and Millennials over the past two years.
Enter the so-called ‘finfluencer.’ As mentioned in our earlier post, videos on TikTok, Twitter, and Instagram proclaiming ‘To the Moon!’ and ‘Diamond Hands!’ have proliferated, promoting meme stocks and plans to quickly pay off your house, car, or debt using language such as ‘Five easy tricks to financial freedom.’
So who are the financial influencers? How are they compensated? What are the red flags to watch for?
An influencer is a person who, by virtue of popular or cultural status, has the ability to influence the decision-making process of others through promotions or recommendations on social media. Thus a finfluencer is influencing financial decisions. It’s really not much different than the celebrity spokesman of the 1950s, 60s, 70s, or 80s touting their preferred brand of laundry detergent or cigarettes.
Finfluencer posts are more often than not stylized to be entertaining so that you’ll want to share with other people. But it’s important to note, a financial influencer may be compensated by a business offering a product or service, the social platform itself, or an undisclosed party. Again, while there is nothing new about marketers paying celebrities to endorse products, what IS different is that such breezy and hyper-emotional endorsements are being made in what is otherwise a very regulated industry with stringent rules about performance claims and disclosure of potential conflicts of interest. Remember, investment promoters generally must provide potential investors with all information relevant to making an informed investment decision. Finfluencers are testing the limits of what is considered regulated investment advice and protected free speech.
Celebrity chef and martial arts champion Crash Smasherson enters an agreement with KRYPTOGLUG to promote the company’s amazing new cryptocurrency via his five-million combined Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, and Twitter followers.
KRYPTOGLUG pays Crash $25 per person that he pushes to the exchange. The company gets 10,000 new investors from Crash’s social promotions, and pays him $250,000.
Crash discloses none of this to his social media followers.
Sound silly? It’s happening right now.
Social content is not a replacement for individualized financial advice.
Finfluencers should be disclosing any compensation they receive—they’re required to by securities laws. But regulators cannot police every advertisement or endorsement, and so consumers should not assume a finfluencer is disclosing everything they ought to be. In addition, investors may have little or no ability to recover from a finfluencer who turns out to be either a know-nothing pretending to be a professional, or an outright fraud.
Watch for Red Flags
While some financial content may include helpful information like the basics of financial literacy, other content might include reckless advice (e.g., “Avoid Paying Your Debts” or “Avoid Making Your Next Mortgage Payment Using this HACK!”) that could result in serious financial consequences. Like any investment opportunity, if it sounds too good, too crazy, or too reckless to be true, it probably is.
If a finfluencer claims to hold a financial certification or designation of any kind, you can check to see if they’re registered at aretheyregistered.ca
The Bottom Line
While celebrities may be very good at what they do in their respective professions, that does not necessarily mean they should be looked to for investment advice. Investing is an individualized endeavor where success looks different for everyone. Endorsements about financial products should be treated with skepticism and subjected to the same scrutiny and consideration given to making any other major business decision. Ask yourself: “Why is this person endorsing this investment and how does it fit in my financial picture? If their strategies and picks worked out so well, is there a reason they are spending hours making social media content?” It may turn out that they are simply being paid to sell it, and that they don’t care if it suits your needs or not.
This article incorporates content originally released by the North American Securities Administrators Association, and has been used with the expressed permission of NASAA.