Students question credibility of 'finfluencers', seek out trusted sources for financial advice

Unreliable financial advice on social media poses risk to impressionable teens

By Joseph Gomes

Visuals By Vanessa Kauk

TikTok and YouTube are quickly becoming students’ primary entry point into the financial world, with finance experts and influencers offering advice on how to manage money online. But in today’s digital age where clicks are currency, the line between fact and fiction can become blurred and hard to know who to trust—especially when it comes to money.

Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) students say they gravitate to social media for monetary advice because it’s free and the information is usually conveyed in accessible, easy-to-understand terms.

For third-year business management student Emanuel Tsiris, YouTube is his first stop to gaining financial information, because digesting knowledge in video format helps him understand the concepts better.

“Financial advice is really hard to understand, and video can actually explain it properly, so YouTube is probably my go-to place,” he said. “And then once I get a brief knowledge [of the topic], I go to Google and search from there.”

He also trusts YouTube over TikTok. “Anyone can go viral [on TikTok]. And misinformation can spread wildly that way, so I tend to go to YouTube more than TikTok.”

Tsiris pointed to YouTube’s comment section to differentiate good advice from bad. Before implementing any advice he learns on the platform, he’ll look at the comments and review what other viewers are saying, before taking the information seriously.

He said he is also cautious of the fact that some creators are more interested in profits from viewers rather than helping them manage their finances and bears this in mind when deciding who to watch.

Earlier this year, Australia zeroed in on misinformation, warning “finfluencers” (finance influencers) to get licensed to give financial advice or face jail time. But since no such requirement exists in North America, the responsibility usually falls on the viewer.

Third-year finance student Ishan Patel says that students shouldn’t be investing without properly getting information from a trusted source.

“I feel like it's important that everyone should get a good idea of what their investment is,” he says. “I don't think blind investing has made anyone rich ever. You need to learn and do your research.”

Patel cites market intelligence platform CapIQ and business news outlet Bloomberg as his go-to source for real-time information on stocks and investments and does his best to avoid opinion-based information, especially from finfluencers.

“If you really want to check out the latest news on a company, it's really easy to go on Bloomberg rather than searching on Google and seeing five different websites and going from there,” Patel said.

He added that outlets like Bloomberg provide easy and reliable access to reported news and updates, as opposed to offering finance advice, allowing readers to make their own decisions based on their individual circumstances.

Since some students don’t have a background in finance or the time to do research, Lifehacker, a software and technology webblog owned by media company G/O Media, states on their site that it is important that people at least get familiar with the problems of misleading advice.

The site compiled a list of red flags of finance influencers who may be unqualified to give advice, including, “if it sounds too good to be true,” “if they focus on short term investments” and “if they tout “secret” ways to build wealth.”

Lu Zhang, an associate finance professor at TMU, encourages students' interest in learning more about personal finance and gives some alternate approaches to self education.

“TMU students have all these resources, courses, workshops available to them on campus, student clubs on campus, where they can seek better, more credible advice or learn by themselves, how to manage finances,” she said.

She emphasizes that you don’t have to be a finance major to join these clubs or courses, and that occasionally hanging out with the finance community is a great place to gain exposure.

Another great place, said assistant TMU finance professor Daniel Tut, is your local bank.

“If I have to make a financial decision on a specific product and I'm not sure about that specific product, l might go to my local bank and talk to my investment representative,” he said. “They might give me exactly the same information that I'm already privy to, but from very different angles.”

Tsiris said that whichever platform students choose to learn from, “As long as you stay diligent and make sure that the content you're consuming has facts behind it you should be fine.”

For students who are looking for accredited online sources to learn more about personal finance, both Tut and Zhang recommend business news sites such as The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg , CNBC , and Financial Times.

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