When Vivian Tu was considering a career, she knew from the start that it was important for her to be financially stable as well as challenged.
After graduating with a degree from the University of Chicago, known in the industry as a Wall Street feeder school, she landed on the equities trading Desk at J.P.Morgan covering the industrial materials and energy sector.
It wasn’t long before she realized she needed a change. “Wall Street was amazing, I had a really good experience, but I started to come to the realization that finance wasn’t what it was 20 years ago,” she says. “I was never going to have this big illustrious career where I could continue to grow and grow, because that industry is contracting.”
Today Tu is best known for dispensing financial tips on TikTok under the handle @yourrichbff. Her account boasts more than 200 videos, 590,000 followers, and over 5 million likes on the platform.
The shift happened after Tu pivoted from Wall Street to a role in tech. Her new friends and colleagues learned of her finance background and the money questions started flowing in: “What’s in your 401(k)?” “What health insurance did you pick?”
“First of all, you have a family and two kids, we should not be picking the same health insurance,” Tu gleefully recalls telling one colleague. “It got to a point where I was getting the same questions and it became a running joke that I was like, ‘Oh, I’m going to start a finance Instagram or TikTok and you all can follow me there.”
In January 2021 she posted her first video. Using the #richtok, #financetok and #budgetok hashtags, the video, in her words, “went gangbusters,” racking up a total of 1.9 million views. “I was very fortunate to grow a following pretty much overnight, and I’ve been creating content ever since.”
Grow chatted with Tu about the space she’s carved out for herself on #financetok and what it is about her quick money tips that resonates so strongly with the majority Gen Z and millennial users on the app.
The interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Rudine Manning, Grow editor: Why do you think your account has gone so viral?
Vivian Tu: I convey information in a way that is literally like you were my college roommate: We’re having coffee on our couch in the morning and we’re just talking casually like two friends.
A lot of the available resources right now are kind of judgey. They shame you and make you feel really guilty about what you’re currently doing and they act like you should have been doing the right things all along when no one’s taught it to you.
In addition to that, a lot of the current resources available are very male and very pale. I think it was really exciting for people to see someone who is a woman and a woman of color. And also, someone who’s young. I’m not Jim Cramer.
Manning: What is it that you’re finding most people our age want to know about money?
Tu: I think our generation has a lot more money problems than others. Our parents’ generation went to college for $47.38, bought their first house for $250, and was able to grow with the economy. We have massive student debt, trillions of dollars in debt.
We’ve also got “keeping up with the Joneses” more so than any other generation because it’s so readily available. We’re looking at what Instagram creators and influencers are doing: “Oh, they’re on a private jet, maybe I should be on a private jet.” That can lead to spending money in a way that is not necessarily the best for each of us.
A lot of the content that has done really well on my channel addresses that: If you have student debt, you can still save, you can still invest, and you can still go on vacation. This is how you should be thinking about money: In a way that allows you to do all these things, while still maintaining your sanity.
People love to have the secret equation or the secret sauce to be able to have all of these things in their lives all at once.
Manning: For people our age, a lot of the advice we get and the discourse around our finances is, “Well, you’re switching jobs too much,” or, “You’re spending all your money on lattes and avocado toast.” Do you think your followers are just sick of being talked down to?
Tu: “Oh, you buy avocado toast but can’t afford a home?” I did the math! If you buy a $15 piece of avocado toast every single day for an entire year, it’s about like $2,000 or $3,000. The average home in America cost $354,000. So a 20% down payment would be over $70,000. Are you going to save your avocado toast money for 18 years?
And I actually showed people the math on that, and they were just like, “So, like, it’s not the avocado toast?” No. It’s the fact that housing prices have skyrocketed and inflation has skyrocketed whereas job wages have stagnated, and that is why you can’t afford a home.
Manning: How has it been for you moving into this space where you’re so visible and accessible and have followers relying on you for financial information?
Tu: I’ve received a lot of really upsetting messages that say things like, “I’m about to be evicted from my place. What do I do?” I try my best not to take every message personally, but what I always do is provide resources that are a good jumping off point. I try to provide information that, even if it’s not the answer, can help lead you to where you might be able to find the answer.
Manning: What would you say to someone who needs more guidance than you can give to them on TikTok, but thinks, ‘I don’t have enough money to justify paying someone to help me figure this out’?
Tu: I tell my followers to at least go talk to a financial advisor. The first consultation should be free, right? It’s like finding a therapist. You’ve got to meet with many and kiss a couple frogs before you find your prince. And if you’re going to get one, it should be a fiduciary.
But for the most part, I think young people don’t need one. You can get the same service and experience with a robo-advisor. It’s way more cost-accessible and a lot of us hate getting on the phone with people or having in-person meetings. It’s easier to just email, text, or chat online.
Disclosure: Vivian Tu is an Acorns partner. Grow is produced by CNBC in partnership with Acorns and is editorially independent.
The article “How ‘Your Rich BFF’ Vivian Tu built a massive TikTok following: ‘I actually showed people the math’” was originally published on Grow (CNBC + Acorns).