Finfluencers in Investing

In recent years, social media has become a powerful platform for sharing information. A way to discover new products and lifestyle hacks, everything from gaming to fitness, meal prep, or even finance can be the niche of an online influencer. In today’s digital age, especially post-pandemic, there has been a rising group of “finfluencers” – influencers who are focused on finance. Many are turning to these online personalities for guidance on investing.

In a recent Canada-wide survey released by The Office of The Investor it was reported, about 1-in-5 Canadians (22%) say they use social media, forums, or ‘finfluencers’ for financial information and advice.

While finfluencers can offer useful tips, it’s essential to approach their advice with caution and skepticism. Here’s what you should know about finfluencers and investing.

Finfluencers use social media sites like YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram to share their knowledge on a range of financial themes from money management, cryptocurrency, financial trends, budgeting, and investments. They can be regular everyday people or celebrities who have taken an interest in a specific product or investment. Finfluencers and other social media content producers can easily connect with large audiences through their postings or videos, and potentially influence the decision of thousands of people. Their guidance is exhibited in brief, simple-to-watch videos which can be entertaining or interesting but may not contain all the information needed for viewers to make an educated choice.

Finfluencers often make money through sponsored posts, referral fees or promoting certain financial products. This creates a danger that they may promote risky products which they don’t fully understand, and it is something you need to be wary of. The advice you are receiving from them, in many cases, comes without any background or expertise in personal finance and comes with a bias.

Although it is generally a positive thing to make financial education more accessible, many of the recommendations made by finfluencers have been wrong or even harmful. This is also worrying since, unlike other influencers pushing non-financial products, someone who follows poor financial advice may end up losing their entire life savings.

Finfluencers and scams

Financial scams have evolved beyond the days of anonymous phone calls about car accidents and unclaimed lottery winnings. Nowadays, many scammers are scanning social media looking for young or vulnerable users.

While some finfluencers honestly aim to help their followers, the rise of the "Finfluencer scam" has become problematic. Finfluencer scams are schemes in which finfluencers use their online platforms to trick followers into making bad financial decisions or investments. These scams include:

  • Pump-and-Dump Schemes: Some finfluencers promote specific stocks or cryptocurrencies to falsely inflate their prices before selling their own holdings, leaving their followers with plummeting investments.
  • False Promises: Finfluencers often make unrealistic promises of high returns on investments or quick wealth accumulation.
  • Unregistered Advice: Finfluencers frequently offer advice without proper registration and qualifications or due diligence.
  • Affiliate Marketing: They promote financial products and services, earning commissions from each followers' sign-ups, without disclosing these affiliations.

Many are scammers who show off extravagant lifestyles and attribute this to foreign exchange trading schemes or cryptocurrencies they’ve invested in. Sometimes, they try to sell ‘get rich quick' courses or workshops. In other cases, the finfluencers are not the scammers themselves and unaware they're promoting a scam. They have just received money or another form of payment to advertise a fraud or scam –this is why you need to be careful.

To help protect yourself against fraud and scams visit The Office of Investor’s “Avoiding Fraud and Protecting Your Investments”. You can also take our short Safe or Scam Quiz to test your awareness and see if you can spot the red flags of some common scams.

Dangers and Risk Awareness

The message that's continuously being preached is easy success, but most finfluencers simply leave out the dangers involved. This lack of transparency removes trust and makes it difficult for you to assess the credibility and reliability of the advice being offered.

Many finfluencers do not have formal training or professional qualifications to give advice in finance or investment management, and they are not regulated. Relying solely on their advice without proper due diligence can lead to uninformed and misguided investment decisions.

Finfluencers come from all types of backgrounds and expertise levels, ranging from seasoned investors to self-taught enthusiasts. While some may have experience in finance, others simply share their personal investment journeys. And although, it may seem as though they offer good financial tips, many do more damage than good. Finfluencers typically cater to a broad audience and do not consider individual investors’ unique financial goals, risk tolerance, and circumstances. Following the generic advice of a misinformed finfluencer or a sponsored post endorsing a celebrity has proven to be expensive. In the last few years, there have been several high-profile cases of this:

  • October 2022 - Kim Kardashian was fined $1.26 million for promoting EMAX tokens without properly disclosing her payment from EthereumMax.
  • March 2023 - YouTuber Jake Paul was part of a group fined $400,000 for allegedly unlawfully promoting crypto asset securities.

Some financial promotions could also be considered a criminal offense. A prime example of this is the 2022 collapse of FTX, a once-leading cryptocurrency exchange. Since its downfall a number of high-profile celebrities, including Steph Curry, Tom Brady, and Larry David, are part of a class-action lawsuit against the company and its celebrity promoters.

The popularity and influence of finfluencers can create a sense of social proof, where individuals are more likely to trust and follow advice endorsed by a large following community. Overreliance on social proof can lead to herd behaviour and investment decisions that are not based on careful analysis or independent judgment.

Get Expert Financial Advice

While it’s tempting to chase quick profits, don’t fall prey to greed or FOMO (fear of missing out). The truth is successful investing requires a long-term outlook. No one knows for sure what will happen in the future.

It is important to remember that what works for one individual may not be suitable for another. Financial advice depends on many factors including risk tolerance, financial goals and time horizon. The financial risk each person takes on needs to also be personalized. A 20-year-old graduate is in a different life stage than a married couple with three kids.

When looking for good financial advice, it’s best to stick with the experts, a registered financial advisor who is required to act in your best interest before providing any recommendations. Make sure the advisor guiding your financial decisions is trustworthy and capable. You can search the CSA’s National Registration Search database to check if a person is registered with a securities regulatory authority in Canada.

Purchasing an investment is not a small decision so doing your own research before buying a stock is also a good idea.

Conclusion

The world of Finfluencer scams is a complex and ever-evolving issue. It is important for investors to be careful and be aware of the risks associated with following financial advice from influencers on social media platforms. Before making any investing decisions, do your research. If someone asks you to follow their advice without first understanding your financial goals, you should ask yourself: is there more in this advice for the influencer than there is for me?