Vivian Tu, the 28-year-old TikToker behind Your Rich BFF, knows how to explain private equity to her 2.2 million followers through a lens they can relate to: Kim Kardashian.
“Kim K’s foray into private equity is going to make her a multi-billionaire while using other people’s money,” Tu kicks off the video in her typical face-to-face, quick-talk style. “Kim has been steadily enriching herself through endorsements, television, etc. She then progressed by creating her own brand, and now she reaches the level of boss by investing in other people’s brands.
You then embark on a quick and dirty crash course in private equity – general partners, limited partners, commissions, deferred interest. The video starts at 59 seconds.
“I obviously can’t cover the lack of available private equity information in 60 seconds,” Tu said. Fortune in an interview. “But people can now digest the news better, read the headlines better, because I can help them.” This goes hand in hand with its greater mission: to help people make smart financial decisions by opening their eyes to solutions they might never have thought of otherwise.
It’s this mix of pop culture and learning that makes Tu so popular on TikTok, where her humor and unassuming authenticity create an accessible rapport that garnered hundreds of thousands of viewers within a week of her debut video. Less than two years later, she runs the account full-time with a team of two other people and publishes a newsletter.
When I told her we would be recording our Zoom, she asked for 10 seconds to change and was back on camera a minute and a half later with a fresh shirt and a pair of earrings, laughing that she must have been unrecognizable.
But she’s more than recognizable by her millions of mostly young and female followers who watch her financial advice videos, which she posts almost daily to an audience she’s affectionately dubbed “the leftovers.”
The entire financial services industry, until now, “has been masculine, pale and stale,” Tu says. She would know, having started her career on Wall Street. In an industry where the total addressable market is everyone, she says, young women, the LGBTQ community and low-income people have often been left out.
With this in mind, she devised the nickname BFF. “Suddenly you have someone who doesn’t look like your father’s financial adviser. You have someone who looks like she could be anyone’s best friend in college,” she explains. “I want to entertain my audience and turn finance into funding and simply make discussions about money more accessible for the next generation of wealthy BFFs.
The big business of finfluencing
Like many influencers who have risen to prominence during the pandemic, Tu never expected that content creation could be lucrative enough to become more than a side hustle. “I want to tell you, I had this evil plan to build all of this, but I didn’t,” she says. Instead, she says she started her career humbly trading stocks at JPMorgan.
She left Wall Street for BuzzFeed’s “greener pastures” in 2018, where new friends and colleagues, knowing her background, began asking for financial advice.
But Tu felt that financial situations are too personal to offer empirical recommendations. “I’m like, ‘You guys, like, we’re all very different.’ Since you have a husband and two children, you live in the suburbs, and at the time, I was this 24-year-old idiot who rocked for ages on the weekends and I certainly didn’t live the same lifestyle.
But she received so many identical questions, ranging from health insurance plans to investments, that she decided to look into her identity as a financial guru and posted her first TikTok on New Year’s Day 2021.
“Welcome to #RichTok. It’s the first day of 2021, and I, your new rich best friend, will teach you new ways to grow your wealth with my best financial literacy tips and tricks,” he says. she on camera as an introduction, then she launches into her reason for being: her own TikTok feed is surprisingly full of risky and misleading financial advice, and she’s ready to set the record straight.
“I don’t have get-rich-quick schemes here, but I will help you with practical advice and knowledge on how to improve your financial literacy,” she continues, referring to her time on Wall Street. She was eager to share her best practices for budgeting, retirement, investing and saving, “because being rich really should be for all of us.”
What started out as a passion project for co-workers to watch so she didn’t have to explain things “over and over” soon turned into something much bigger: Her first video went viral on day of its publication, she said, earning her 100,000 subscribers by the end of the week.
It was clear to Tu that it wasn’t just her colleagues who needed financial advice, so she started building her brand on TikTok, Instagram and YouTube, creating financial content that people actually want to watch.
A ‘gateway drug’ to understanding personal finance
Tu recognizes that it can be nearly impossible to distribute financial wisdom – which varies widely – to the masses. “I’m not going to know if a Roth IRA makes sense for everyone,” she says.
That’s why she aims to empower her “remaining” audience to find the answers for themselves. She sees her content as a “gateway drug” into personal finance that allows people to dip a toe into the realm – just for 60 seconds at a time – without getting overwhelmed.
She draws inspiration from her first manager at JPMorgan, another Asian woman who happened to be the only other non-white man on her floor. Tu viewed his manager as a “blueprint” on his journey to financial literacy, helping him understand everything from 401(k)s to using the corporate hotel catalog to save money. She says she now tries to be that person for so many people.
The ultimate goal of Tu is to open the dialogue on money and finance. “We’ve been told all our lives that talking about money is taboo. It’s gross, it’s tacky, it’s awkward, whatever,” she says. “But rich people do it all the time and they love doing it. They do it on the vast greens of country clubs. They do it in private beach clubs in Ibiza. They do it at their fancy dinners… They’ve been tipping each other since the dawn of time.
If ‘everyday people’ can talk about money with less shame and judgment and more acceptance and optimism, she continues, we’ll have better advice on how to save, budget and invest. . “Talking about money is the easiest free thing you can do to better manage your money,” she says.
She believes that one of the surest ways to fight inequality is to share information, which she is committed to doing over the long term.
“By helping people who you never expected to be rich, to get rich. It’s fighting against a broken financial system,” she says. “It’s like, here are the rules of the game I will teach you how to play.
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