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Gaining “Fin-Fluence:” Financial Literacy In The Age of Social Media

Apple Crider has always been an observant person.

He’s had a sharp eye ever since his first day of school. As he tells it, Crider didn’t start playing with his peers right away — he needed to watch them first.

“On the first day of kindergarten, on the playground, I showed up and stood on the sidelines and observed everything,” said Crider. “At the end of the week on week two I knew who I wanted to play with and what I wanted to do.”

Crider’s attentive nature transferred over into many realms – including finance. He took note of his parents’ trips to the grocery store and other errands, along with what they deemed to be cheap or expensive. He developed an interest in how his friends handled their money.

But it wasn’t the dollars and cents, per se, that interested Crider in money. It was the psychology of it. The “people part.”

“Whether people like money or not, it’s going to play a pretty specific role in your life,” Crider said. “So, whether you like to talk about money or think about money or not – it’s an important thing.”

Crider is the 21-year-old host of Young Smart Money, a podcast focused on entrepreneurship and money management for young people. He also has more than 7,000 subscribers to his YouTube channel. Crider’s videos range from tips on investing to resources for young entrepreneurs. His most popular video tells viewers how to open a Roth IRA.

More and more, young people are getting their financial know-how from people like Crider — so much so that there’s been a new genre of social media influencers referred to as “finfluencers.” Similar to the traditional “influencer,” these are social media personalities who create content about personal finance and economics.

Finfluencers use the same channels and methods to gain followers: engaging, yet ephemeral, content in the form of memes and videos. The difference is the content itself: A finfluencer creates a video to explain what escrow is or distinguishes index funds from mutual funds.

On one of Humphrey Yang’s video posts, a viewer comments that he learns more from Yang than he does at school. Yang provides information on personal finance and investing on social media. He has over one million TikTok followers.

A Wall Street Journal survey found that nearly half of millennials prefer to learn about finance online; just a quarter of respondents said they would go to an in-person expert. Gen Z and millennials have grown up not knowing anything but smartphones, fast internet and an app-based existence, so in many ways it’s a no-brainer young people are getting their financial knowledge via social media.

Crider added that there aren’t many other places to get it. He said many of his peers don’t trust traditional platforms.

“Where else are they going to get (financial literacy)?” he asked. “There is so much distrust in the financial industry as a whole. No 20-something I know is going to go seek out a financial advisor.”

Data from the Council for Economic Education shows just 21 states require high school students to take a course in personal finance.

However, the report also states that there’s been significant progress made on the issue over the last 20 years. For example, 45 states are required to implement personal finance education standards into their K-12 curriculum.

It could be said that financial literacy is especially important for young people right now, given that college debt in the United States is more than $1 trillion.

Christopher Caltabiano, chief program officer at the Council for Economic Education, said part of the reason financial literacy among K-12 schools isn’t universal is due to an already “crowded curriculum.”

“There are a lot of things teachers are already being asked to teach,” Caltabiano said. “There’s a perception that this is just adding one more thing to the pile.”

Banzai is looking to change that. The organization provides free personal finance software and courses for schools across the country. The offering is made possible thanks to sponsorship from credit unions and banks.

Banzai co-founder and current CEO Morgan Vandagriff helped start the organization right before the 2008 financial crisis. Now, as the country faces another economic downturn due to COVID-19, Banzai subscriptions are up.

“Since the pandemic began, and everybody suddenly switched to remote learning with almost no warning, Banzai has been thrust into the spotlight like never before,” he said.

Thousands of teachers have signed up for the program since the pandemic, said Vandagriff.

Crider said he wasn’t required to take any finance classes in high school, aside from an optional economics course his senior year. One reason young people gravitate towards social media for financial knowledge is its less buttoned-up environment, he said. Crider thinks kids feel less prone to judgement on a news feed than they might in an investment banker’s office.

“They’re not going to feel comfortable going into that environment because they’re going to feel stupid,” he said. “They’re going to think ‘I don’t know enough to even have a conversation.’”

Crider knows that not all social media personalities are in it for the right reasons. It’s easy to be a bad actor, he said, especially now that accounts can obtain paid followers.

Vandagriff agrees – there’s the potential for incorrect information. He also said that influencers who promote a culture of needless consumption aren’t helping. But, when it comes to someone genuinely trying to spread financial knowledge for the right reasons, Vandagriff approves.

“Anyone who’s raising awareness of this issue is going to get a thumbs up from me,” he said.

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