How Banks and Credit Unions Can Counter Bad Advice From ‘Finfluencers’

Social media users with large and active groups of followers, financial ifluencers, or "finfluencers," publish financial advice via video, podcasts, blogs and more. The trouble is that advice can be ambiguous, misleading — and sometimes flat-out wrong. Banks and credit unions must explore the possible ramifications for consumers who act on poor finfluencer advice and offer counter advice banks and credit unions can work into their financial literacy strategies.

Advancing financial literacy and financial wellness through education has gotten much more difficult for banks and credit unions thanks to the rise of the so-called ‘finfluencer’ community. As social media users with large and active followings, these financial influencers publish financial advice on nearly every online platform that exists.

In the right hands, such expansive consumer reach and influence could have a positive impact on global financial well-being. This may be especially true for younger generations who tend to seek advice online regarding everything from mental health (66% of 18–29-year-olds) to investing (57% of 18–29-year-olds).

The trouble is finfluencer advice can be ambiguous, misleading — and sometimes, flat-out wrong.

Even so, knowledge-seeking consumers want to hear what these purported experts have to say. Nearly 8 in 10 (79%) Millennial and Gen Z Americans said they’ve gotten financial advice from social media, and 62% felt empowered by that advice. Helping consumers feel more in financial control is a goal finfluencers and financial institutions may share, but the latter have greater obligations to ensure their financial education is sound.

Know What’s Out There

Banks and credit unions have an opportunity (perhaps even a responsibility) to stem the tide of bad financial advice on the internet. With the right financial literacy strategy, subject matter experts (SMEs) and content teams can effectively counter the influence of financial misinformation.

Promoting proven wealth-building methods over viral “money hacks” starts with knowing what’s out there — at least to some extent. It’s rare for a financial institution (FI) whose marketing team has enough resources to monitor every piece of finfluencer content. However, reviewing top-trending personal finance articles even once a week can provide enough intel to help develop a financial literacy counterattack.

That’s because the same bad advice continuously recirculates. Indeed, recycled misinformation is a lot like the tried-and-true consumer scam. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it — simply modernize it. Just as up-and-coming cybercriminals reengineer yesterday’s fraud schemes for today’s digital channels, wannabe finfluencers see what works for their role models and emulate it, albeit under new clickbait headlines.

Here are three examples of perpetually promoted bad financial “wisdom”:

  • Never pay a collections agency. It’s not your debt anymore.
  • Don’t worry about IRAs and 401ks. Real estate and stocks are the only way to go.
  • Want great credit? Just make the minimum credit card payment on time each month.

Take a Page from the Finfluencer Book

As any good content marketer knows, consistency is key. Finfluencers maintain audience interest and build loyal followings by consistently peddling the promise of “get rich easy” tips and tricks. In this area, banks and credit unions can take a page from the finfluencer book by regularly offering financially sound content with a consistent voice and message.

Of course, finfluencers are also masters at provocative, attention-getting content. Banks and credit unions must find ways to do the same. Instead of pushing out snackable untruths, however, FIs can hook audiences with pithy (yet proven) strategies for earning financial stability and freedom.

Diversify Content Across Three Pillars

In terms of relevant topics, a three-legged stool approach to financial wellness content can help FI marketers fight the most prolific financial falsehoods. By dividing outreach and campaigns across 1) credit education, 2) identity health, and 3) personal finance content, banks and credit unions can clear up a lot of misunderstandings among their customer bases.

Credit Education

Warren Buffett famously said: “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and 5 minutes to ruin it.” A credit score is very similar. That’s why you won’t hear credible money experts circulate false methods for gaming the system. Every banker knows there’s no way to hack a credit score. Earning a good one takes the long-game approach.

However, there are quick, low-effort yet impactful action steps consumers can take. Banks and credit unions can share them in an easily digestible format to reach even the shortest of attention spans. Setting up auto pay to avoid missing payments or making a child an authorized user on a parent’s credit card are good, bite-sized tips perfect for short- and micro-form content.

For marketers, credit-based content also creates the opportunity for greater personalization. Because a credit score can represent the accounting of a financial life, it’s highly personal to the individual engaging with it. Leaning in on this with tailored advice for people at different score levels (from poor to excellent) can draw in audiences and keep them coming back as they make headway toward their credit-growth goals.

Identity Health

Younger generations would not be faulted for believing there’s no such thing as privacy. Gen Z, for example, is coming of age in a time when every minute of the day is potentially postable. What’s more, they’re inundated with news of data breaches that expose the personally identifiable information (PII) of millions of consumers.

It’s easy to see where this kind of environment could lead to privacy apathy. Yet, new consumer research indicates Americans are adopting the very opposite mindset. Ninety-three percent of consumers polled by TransUnion said having confidence their personal data will not be compromised is the most important factor when choosing to transact online.

Dig deeper:

This underscores an overwhelming public interest in protecting private identities, digital and otherwise. But when it comes to data breaches, people often simply don’t know what to do. Financial wellness campaigns that encourage action items — such as actually reading through breach notification letters and taking advantage of the identity protection services offered in them — can begin to address the problem of inaction.

Here again, banks and credit unions have an opportunity to make the message more personal. When a breach hits the news, content teams can use available tools to go deeper into exactly what types of PII were exposed and prescribe tailored prevention steps that mitigate the risk of trickle-down identity theft. Say, for instance, medical information was stolen in a local hospital compromise. An FI could subsequently direct audiences on how to request an “accounting of disclosures” from their medical providers.

Personal Finance

Financial health is not unlike physical health — achieving both is possible for most people who practice a few basic principles. Unfortunately, “basic” isn’t always deemed clickworthy. Just as content about regular exercise and a balanced diet can get a little dry, so can advise on consistent saving, budgeting and diversified investments.

This is where SMEs and content marketers come in. Challenging themselves to apply creativity and novelty to time-tested rules of personal finance, these communication professionals can pull eyeballs away from erroneous finfluencer content and toward trusted advice from actual experts.

A few tricks of the trade can bring flavor to otherwise bland personal finance content:

Storytelling: Sharing stories of genuine bank customers or credit union members who have achieved financial success makes theoretical content seem more real and achievable for an audience.

Interactive content: Budget calculators, retirement planning tools, savings goal trackers and personal finance quizzes turn general money advice into hyper-personalized experiences.

Humor: Adding a little lightheartedness to personal finance — a sometimes intimidating topic —puts audiences at ease and leaves them wanting more.

Keep it Short, Sweet and Exciting

Beyond the annoying distraction of diverting followers from banks and credit unions, finfluencers that preach poor practices can cause real harm. Financial losses, reduced savings and damaged credit are all serious outcomes that can arise from following bad online advice. Beyond the numbers, jumping on a broken financial bandwagon can also breed mistrust of the financial system — which could generate a whole other set of problems for consumers down the road.

Following a three-pronged approach to financial literacy campaigns can help banks and credit unions become finfluencers in their own right. By personalizing content whenever possible — while also keeping it concise, relevant and motivating — financial content teams can earn the audience attention and consumer influence they truly merit.

Margaret Poe is consumer content and global digital experiences manager for TransUnion. She began her career as a local news reporter and editor, and that journalistic foundation informs her work today.

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