I have a degree in finance, but most of what I know about money came from the internet.
I started my personal finance blog in 2011, when I knew next to nothing about money. The web was a friendly place for creators like me who were paying down debt and investing in the stock market.
Not only did it offer me a safe place where I could learn at my own pace, but it provided a community where people were open about the traditionally taboo subject of money. I was inspired enough to get an MBA in 2013. But when I graduated in 2015, I turned down a career in investment banking to stay online, where I knew I could do more.
The Internet provides free, accessible advice on everything from budgeting to investing in the stock market. There’s no reason to make an appointment with an advisor at your bank when you can watch a three-minute YouTube video from the comfort of your couch and rewatch it as many times as you need to understand it.
Then, once you find the money topic that interests you most, online sub-communities can transform a unique financial method into a lifestyle, like living debt-free or pursuing FIRE (financial independence, early retirement). If you’ve ever felt too shy to discuss your student loans or investment portfolio with your friends and family, there are thousands of strangers on the web willing to pay attention to you — and your spreadsheets.
Online money tips mostly come from young creators, because they are the most social savvy. The newer the platform, the younger the personal finance celebrity offering their wealth hacking strategies.
GenX is still quietly posting blog posts about dividend stocks, millennials are promoting their real estate portfolios on Twitter, and GenZ is selling crypto tokens on TikTok. Unfortunately, and unknown to their followers, most personal finance creators lack both formal financial education and credentials. His real skill is digital marketing, not finance.
As a result, online financial advice runs rampant and out of control. Even bad advice, like focusing on paying off your mortgage early instead of investing in the stock market for retirement, can go viral to convince thousands before anyone does the math.
And when someone does the math, there is virtually nothing that can be done to reverse the misinformation. You have no hope of deleting every screenshot of a deleted tweet or deleting every recording of an Instagram story. Internet is forever.
Where financial institutions require employees to be trained and certified before working with clients, an online finance creator needs nothing more than a smartphone. A bank or brokerage house employee can face serious professional and even legal repercussions for giving bad financial advice, but a personal finance influencer, or “finfluencer,” does not face any consequences. Just look to famed financial guru Dave Ramsey, who has convinced millions to put off investing until they are completely debt-free, advice that is neither practical nor offers the greatest return on investment.
But most online financial advice is not misleading or harmful. In fact, it’s good. Actually Okay. In my experience, online personal finance advice is much better than anything provided by established financial institutions.
Talented online financial creators have mastered the art of breaking down complex topics for beginners and delivering insights without embarrassment or intimidation. They go one step further and build relationships with their followers, interacting with them and answering questions in a way that is infinitely more accessible than a bank advisor behind an appointment calendar.
Your favorite finfluencer is a thoughtful, empathetic friend who will tell you exactly how much interest you’ll save by raising your student loan payment by $25 a month. Don’t we all need more people like that in our lives?
My inbox is full of emails and direct messages from people who didn’t feel welcome by financial institutions, but used my advice to pay off their debt, start a registered retirement savings plan, and negotiate a five-figure raise.
Even more amazing are the messages I get from followers who work in finance, who learned something from me that they didn’t learn in their accounting career or corporate finance job.
Perhaps even more shocking than how good financial information is online is how bad it is everywhere else. Why haven’t banks and brokerage firms done a better job of educating not only their customers, but also their employees?
Until financial and educational institutions find a way to provide quality financial information in a way that is easy for the average person to access, understand, and implement, finfluencers are here to stay. In the meantime, we are all better off and richer because of them.
Bridget Casey, MBA (Finance), is the founder of Money After Graduation, a financial e-learning company. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter at @bridgiecasey
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