“Sell me this pen,” says a man in a white open-neck shirt, as a lo-fi hip-hop instrumental plays out in the background. This is not a scene from a shoddy reimagining of The Wolf of Wall Street, it’s just one example of the personal finance content trend currently growing in popularity on TikTok.
Found under tags like #entrepreneur, #personalfinance and #business, there are tens of thousands of videos providing viewers with business motivation, explanations of financial terminology and financial advice, in the form of 15-second videos you can watch while you shit.
Here, you’ll find everything from easy to understand stock trading tips from @austinhankwitz (332,000 followers) to money saving and making advice specifically aimed at teenagers, from 17-year-old @mattlorion (522,000 followers), which he delivers from behind the wheel of his ice white Tesla. Aesthetically, at least, it’s a world away from famed American finance guru Dave Ramsey, or Britain’s own Money Saving Expert, Martin Lewis.
Though it’s worth approaching some accounts with the same level of discernment levied toward YouTube and Insta-influencers who claim to help their users make thousands of pounds, there are some straight up educational resources here. The best of these usually explain financial concepts with ease.
One of the most popular accounts creating this type of content, with over 750,000, followers is @humphreytalks, run by 32-year-old California-based entrepreneur Humphrey Yang.
Despite only starting to create daily TikToks in January, Humphrey’s account has become one of the most popular in the personal finance genre, with over 10 million “likes”.
Initially beginning with longer videos breaking down personal finance terms, he’s since moved into shorter clips and comedic skits to explain the terms in quick, simple and humorous ways.
The most popular videos usually either feature Humphrey having a conversation with himself acting as a personified version of the financial concept he’s explaining, or visiting different businesses – such as Chipotle – in person to explain how their business models work.
However, by far the most popular personal finance content on TikTok is often just purely motivational, old school business advice. For this, one UK-based account reigns supreme: @marktilbury.
Run by Mark and his son Curtis, the account has already amassed over 1.5 million followers and 7.3 million “likes”, despite only being started in May. In many videos, Mark offers up his “advice” on how to become a millionaire.
His advice isn’t anything you won’t have heard before, but it is madly successful on TikTok. The keys to Mark’s success on the platform are an extremely high production value, in-your-face-motivational speech and, most importantly, Mark’s credentials as a self-made millionaire.
But why all the finance help on TikTok – a platform primarily meant for having a laugh?
Beyond the current pandemic-induced lack of employment opportunities, financial issues have long been rife among young people. A 2018 survey from The Office for National Statistics found that over half of 20-somethings in the UK have no savings, while the UK debt charity StepChange reported that, in 2019, around 14 percent of their clients were under the age of 25.
In the US, the situation is even bleaker. Data from the New York Fed Consumer Credit Panel and Equifax shows that American 18 to 29-year-olds owed a total of $1.05 trillion in debt in 2019 – the highest amount since 2007. There has also been a huge swing towards the gig economy for many young people looking to earn additional money, with a 2019 study from Upwork reporting that around 53 percent of US workers aged between 18 to 22 are undertaking some form of freelance work.
The idea of using the knowledge gained from personal finance TikTok to start a successful side hustle was frequently cited to me by young people as one of the primary reasons for the trend’s popularity. In particular, the recent growth of videos explaining how the stock market works, as well as giving trading tips, have inspired many young people to use stock trading as a way to make extra money from home.
New York City-based restaurant manager Alfredo Palma, 21, arrived at the world of personal finance TikTok after a downturn in his trading portfolio in March. As did 26-year-old Wasim Khawja from Austin, Texas, who explained that he also uses the app to learn about the stock market, specifically looking out for stocks which are predicted to increase in the near future.
Alfredo explained how people across the US are currently looking for ways to use the money given to them through the coronavirus federal relief scheme to their advantage.
Mark Madry, a 27-year-old PR professional from North Carolina, told me that Humphrey’s videos explaining credit card interest rates inspired him to pay off his credit card debts and cancel his cards – a decision that he estimates will save him $600 to $750 per year in fees and interest.
The accessibility of the videos from creators like Humphrey, and the practicality of their advice, was also highlighted by Jonathan Sarasa, a 17-year-old student from Miami, Florida. In addition to mentioning how students often aren’t taught about financial matters in school, he told me his interest in the trend comes primarily from the fact he’s about to leave college and is looking for ways to “manage his student loan debt and not stress about his finances in the long term”.
Of course, these videos are unlikely to be able to totally revolutionise people’s financial situations, but as Mark Madry pointed out: “Learning is earning.” Ultimately, during a period in which many of us have an abundance of free time, there are far worse ways to spend it than learning how to look after our money.