Financial influencers or ‘finfluencers’ are rising as fast as cryptocurrency on social media platforms like TikTok. But now questions are being raised over the legality and ethics behind those with no background or qualifications in finance sharing advice.
The issue was raised by Business Insider, particularly focusing on 20-year-old influencer Atis Paul, who has nearly 400,000 followers on TikTok. To legally skirt any issues Mr Paul claims his content “is not financial advice and should not be taken as financial advice.”
Australian law says giving out financial advice is illegal unless you have an Australian financial services license.
However, Mr Paul’s special service ‘CryptoBullRuns’ on the OnlyFans platform, which costs $49.99 to subscribe to, advertises content such as “every MUST have coin to add to your portfolio,” and “Daily updates on the coins I have recommended.”
Mr Paul’s actions have been particularly brought into contention after he, his sister and girlfriend, all of whom have huge social media followings, promoted a cryptocurrency called hushcoin. They all strongly urged their followers to invest, the family have stressed that they do not own the coin, yet none of the posts are tagged as ads.
In one recent post on Instagram promoting hushcoin, he posted his account’s balance of $48,219.
“$38,219 profit from a $10k investment in three weeks,” he wrote, according to New.com “I have been researching crypto for a long, long time, 10-plus hours a day, I have made my family so much f***ing money this year.
“You all have been asking for it so it’s time to share this s*** with everyone – private group launching tonight, do not sleep on this.”
His sister Anna Paul also promoted hushcoin, writing “Go here and grab yourself some hushcoins. You’re some of the first to find out about this one. Great project, excellent team, low price, fresh, will moon.”
While Business Insider raised concerns about whether this exposes Australian financial advice rules as being unfit for purpose, the government seems surprisingly unopposed.
Financial Services Minister Jane Hume commented: “The TikTok influencer spruiking Nokia is not that different to the bloke down at the pub who wants to tell you about the really great company he just invested in but with a much louder voice.”
“It is an inevitable part of a financial ecosystem.”
Ms Hume even suggested: “it will better engage younger generations in investment and financial markets.”
However, RMIT senior lecturer of finance Angel Zhong told Business Insider of some ethical concerns that arise from the process.
The core issue is that social media influencers receive income from their content, which puts a question mark over their motives when compared to Ms Hume’s example of “the bloke down at the pub.”
For example, while a pub larrikin has little incentive to trick you, an influencer could get their followers to invest in a stock or cryptocurrency, then cash out their own stake to make profit.
Ms Zhong commented that “Investment advice provided on social media tends to encourage day trading, promote get-rich-quick schemes and FOMO (fear-of-missing-out).”
Ms Zhong also suggested that content by influencers such as Mr Paul “highlights the importance of considering having explicit measures in place to warn vulnerable viewers about the reliability of financial advice in social media.”
A Vox article from earlier this year found 10 pieces of financial advice that had been given via TikTok videos and more or less dissected why each of these pieces of advice were terrible. Many of these videos had millions of views, likes and comments.
Even Tori Dunlap, a financial influencer herself, warns users from stumbling into poor financial advice, “I think, with anything in life, but especially with money, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true.”
Ms Dunlap continued: “On Tik Tok it’s really easy to just keep scrolling or to see a piece of content and to you know, really not engage with it or be critical of it. But just like anything you consume, you need to do your research, especially if you’re going to invest money.”
Is it up to the public to simply sift through financial advice and make their own judgements, or do the ethical grey areas of social media financial advice need regulation?
What do you think?
You can see a video of Mr Paul’s girlfriend explaining and defending her profession here.