‘Finfluencers’ or just financial influencers, to explain what the term actually means, have been the bane of my existence. I have consumed this content for years myself – to see what other people do, how they manage their money, how they make their money etc. etc. But as the years progress I’ve become to increasingly distrust, and as a result, dislike, finfluencers. And I think you should too.
My number one reason for disliking a lot of finfluencers is the fact that they are in fact not financial advisors. These are people handing out financial advice, without any of the accreditation to do so. Here it is important to distinguish between certain types of finfluencers. There are people who got rich and simply talk you through what they did; they do not make recommendations, they don’t sell you products, courses or what have you. They just talk you through their experience and caveat that this is in fact only their experience. These people are fine. It’s the rest that’s the issue. People who talk you through their experience and sell it as if it’s gospel, the only way to do it and try to sell you onto a product or service, that they definitely have been sponsored for, or worse, one of their own courses, are just, in my humble opinion, the scum of the earth. They are leveraging their influence to make more money of you. They are not here to educate, they are here to leverage. I have seen this before with finfluencers not doing their due diligence when it comes promoting products and services (crypto, FTX) which then later on collapsed and lost people thousands of dollars, if not more. Which leads me to a second concern.
The second key issue I have with finfluencers, and many other influencers online, is that it is very difficult to tell what’s real. As shitty as it sounds, there is no real incentive for any kind of online influencer to be honest. Because honesty does not pay the bills. Leaving a lack of due diligence and undisclosed sponsorships aside, they could just be lying. And the one key thing finfluencers lie about is their wealth. Two ways to lie about wealth: 1) they lie about how much they actually own and 2) they lie about how they actually made the money. Nothing is easier than faking your online life. A popular video series on YouTube by one of my favourite skinfluencers (skincare influencers) explains how easy it is to fake things on Instagram; from body contortion to photoshop to taking pictures in IKEA and pretending you’re on a luxury vacation (I’m not kidding). Finfluencers can very much do the same. What makes people believe you are rich and successful? Well, fancy cars, big houses, investment properties, luxury holidays, and designer items. This is also known as conspicuous wealth. But these things can be rented, or just entirely faked. There are airports that have a replica of a private plane on the ground just for influencers taking pictures showing that they are so wealthy they can afford their own planes. It’s ridiculous but effective. Because who would you rather than ‘financial advice’ from: someone with a private plane or someone who can’t afford a car? Now, the second point: assuming the finfluencer is actually rich (where’s the proof?!), are they honest about how they got their money? Again, it’s difficult to know this. It took people a long time before they caught onto the Tinder Swindler, so I’m just very wary of wealthy people. Andrew Tate claimed to be incredibly wealthy, and he both massively overexaggerated how wealthy he was, as well as ‘forgot’ to mention how he (allegedly) came by that money (look it up, it’s not good). There are a lot of wealthy people in the world, but in my humble opinion, if your money comes from illegal or morally dubious activities, I can’t say I find you inspiring. But not a single finfluencer is going to admit to having obtained money through ways in which they could jeopardize their following.
My third contention with finfluencers: sssuming that (some) finfluencers are in fact not lying, and that they’re good people – does that mean they’re advice holds any real ground? No. The issue with people is that we’re story tellers. We like a good story, we really do. And the best stories are stories of heroic development. The underdog who makes it big. And to make sure that story works, and you end up being the hero, the situation itself must be described as detrimental, with all the positive consequences being in direct relation and innate to the hero. But this is a lie we tell ourselves, to then tell others. Unconsciously so, this is largely the result of the self-serving bias and the fundamental attribution error. But still. So what does this look like? Well it’s a finfluencer attributing their success to their hard work, discipline, perseverance, smarts, ability to network well, hustle culture etc. etc. They would always go the extra mile, or just found the right market niche, or just worked smarter. No one is ever going to admit to nepotism, being at the right place at the right time, luck, privilege, being born in a generation that could take advantage of certain market developments which other generations couldn’t etc. Keep in mind that hard work is not exclusive to the successful. That’s a lie that perpetuates dangerous and dehumanizing stereotypes about people who have not been so lucky to take advantage of social mobility.
The solution to some of this may be for some finfluencers to turn ‘legit’. As Australia ‘outlawed’ finfluencers and their financial advice, some of them made the choice to become actual financial advisors. Although I can only applaud people getting educated, it doesn’t solve nearly enough of the issue. Although I’m sure that the finfluencers who got their licenses in order hardly qualify to be called as problematic as some of the ones I described above, they can still be problematic, through ignorance. The way financial advice (normally) works is that an individual (or household) goes to a financial advisor, explains their situation, shape their (financial) goals and have the advisor give advice on how to reach them and build a plan around this. These plans although often strongly tied to the financial hierarchy (read an explanation of what that is, here), it is tailored and goal dependent. And for finfluencers communicating to thousands if not millions of followers, this entire individual element is lacking. It may not always be an issue, but it could be.
All in all I’ve become increasingly wary of finfluencers, especially as the most successful ones do not have the right training or certification, but sure are very enigmatic and convincing. What can I say – you can’t trust strangers on the internet!