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 understand: Kim Kardashian.
“Kim K’s foray into private equity is going to make her a multi-billionaire all while using other people’s money,” Tu kicks off the video in her typical front-facing, fast-talking style. “Kim got regular rich through sponsorships, TV, et cetera. She then leveled up by building her own brand, and now she’s hitting boss level by investing in other people’s brands.”
Tu then launches into a quick and dirty crash course on private equity—general partners, limited partners, commissions, carried interest. The video clocks in at 59 seconds.
“I obviously cannot cover the dearth of information available on private equity in 60 seconds,” Tu tells Fortune in an interview. “But people can now digest the news better—read headlines better—because I’m able to help them.” It goes hand in hand with her bigger mission: helping people make smart financial decisions by opening their eyes to solutions they may never have thought about otherwise.
It’s this blend of pop culture and learning that makes Tu so popular on TikTok, where her humor and unpretentious authenticity creates an approachable rapport that reeled in hundreds of thousands of viewers within a week of her first 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’d be recording our Zoom, she asked for 10 seconds to change and was back in front of the camera a minute and a half later with a fresh shirt and a pair of earrings, laughing about how she must be unrecognizable.
But she’s more than recognizable to her millions of mostly young, female followers tuning in to her financial advice videos, which she releases nearly every day for an audience she has lovingly dubbed “the leftovers.”
The entire financial services industry, until now, “has been male, pale, and stale,” Tu says. She would know, having kicked off 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 that in mind, she devised the BFF moniker. “Suddenly, you have someone who doesn’t look like your dad’s financial advisor. You have somebody who looks like I could be anybody’s college best friend,” she explains. “I want to entertain my audience and turn finance into funance and just make talking about money more accessible for the next generation of rich BFFs.”
The big business of finfluencing
As with many influencers who rose to prominence during the pandemic, Tu never expected content creation could be lucrative enough to become more than a side hustle. “I want to tell you that I had this evil mastermind plan to build this all out, but I didn’t,” she says. Instead, she says she started her career humbly—trading equities at JPMorgan.
She left Wall Street for “the greener pastures” of BuzzFeed 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 rule-of-thumb recommendations. “I’m like, ‘You guys, like, we’re all very different.’ Like you have a husband and two kids, you live in the suburbs, and at the time, I was this idiot 24-year-old swinging from the chandeliers on the weekends and definitely was not living the same lifestyle.”
But she received so many of the same questions, ranging from health insurance plans to investments, that she decided to lean into her financial guru identity 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 BFF, am gonna teach you new ways to grow your wealth with my best financial literacy tips and tricks,” she says to the camera by way of introduction. She then launches into her raison d’être: Her own TikTok feed is startlingly full of risky and misleading financial advice, and she’s ready to correct the record.
“I don’t have any get-rich-quick schemes here, but I will help you with practical tips and knowledge on how to level up your financial literacy,” she goes on, referencing her time on Wall Street. She was eager to share her best practices on budgeting, retirement, investing, and saving, “because being rich really should be for all of us.”
What began as a passion project for her coworkers to watch so she didn’t have to explain things “over and over again” quickly turned into something much bigger: Her first video went viral the day it was published, she says, garnering her 100,000 followers by the end of the week.
It was clear to Tu that it wasn’t just her coworkers in need of financial advice, and so she began to build out her brand across TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube, creating financial content that people actually want to watch.
A ‘gateway drug’ to understanding personal finance
Tu acknowledges that it can be near-impossible to dole out financial wisdom—which varies widely—to the masses. “I’m not going to know whether a Roth IRA makes sense for everyone,” she says.
That’s why she aims to empower her “leftover” audience to find the answers for themselves. She considers her content a “gateway drug” into personal finance that lets people dip a toe into the realm—just for 60 seconds at a time—without getting overwhelmed.
She’s inspired by her first manager at JPMorgan, another Asian woman who happened to be the only other non-white guy on her floor. Tu considered her manager a “blueprint” in her path toward financial literacy, helping her figure out everything from 401(k)s to using the corporate hotel catalog to save money. She says she’s now trying to be that person for so many people.
Tu’s ultimate goal is to open up the dialogue about money and finance. “We’ve been told our entire lives that talking about money is taboo. It’s rude, it’s tacky, it’s gauche, whatever,” she says. “But rich people do it all the time and they love to do it. They do it on the sprawling greens of country clubs. They do it at private beach clubs in Ibiza. They do it at their fancy dinners…They’ve been giving each other tips since the dawn of time.”
If “regular people” can talk about money with less shame and judgment and more acceptance and optimism, she continues, we’ll have better tips on how to save, budget, and invest. “Talking about money is the easiest free thing you can do to be better with your money,” she says.
She believes that one of the surest ways of combating inequality is by sharing information, which she is committed to doing for the long haul.
“By helping people who were not expected to be rich, become rich. It’s fighting back against a broken financial system,” she says. “It’s like, here are the rules of the game. I’m going to teach you how to play.”
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