The CFA Institute has called for five actions to curb finfluencers after evaluating extensive research in its new report across the US, UK and Europe.

The global association of investment professionals specifically focused on show financial influencers (finfluencers) engage Gen Z investors in the investment decision-making process.

The report, 'Finfluencer Appeal: Investing in the Age of Social Media', revealed that insufficient financial literacy, limited interaction with regulated financial advisers, and a preference for obtaining information through digital platforms, drives Gen Zers to engage with finfluencer content.

The report evaluated the adequacy of existing policy frameworks governing finfluencer activity, highlighting the challenges of regulatory compliance and disclosures in a cross-border social media context.

It analysed content across TikTok, YouTube, and Instagram to understand finfluencer practices and uses these insights to make recommendations to improve industry best practices.

'lnvesting in the Age of Social Media' identified the key characteristics of finfluencer content through an analysis of 110 items of unique content from finfluencers in the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, and the Netherlands. Analysis includes choice of platform, type of investment, whether a promotion, recommendation, guidance, affiliate link or disclosure is included, number of finfluencer followers, and length of content.

A series of focus groups with Gen Z investors in France, Germany, and the Netherlands identified how Gen Z investors are engaging with finfluencer content. Additionally, the research draws on the findings from focus groups held with Gen Z investors in the United States and the United Kingdom for the CFA Institute and FINRA Investor Education Foundation research

Rhodri Preece, CFA, Senior Head of Research, CFA Institute said: “Finfluencers now play an increasingly significant role in educating young people about finance, with accessible content that is both informative and engaging. However, our research shows that finfluencer content often lacks sufficient disclosures, which can hinder the ability of consumers to evaluate the objectivity of the information, and some investors may be unaware when and how finfluencers are being paid to promote financial products.”

“Differences in definitions across markets for investment recommendations means complexity for finfluencers and a grey area for consumers of their content. Some finfluencers may be unaware that their activities are regulated and need appropriate disclosures. We urge regulators to consider a universal definition of an investment recommendation, and firms and social media platforms should work with finfluencers to ensure compliance with applicable policies.”

The research identifies key characteristics of finfluencer content through an original analysis of content on TikTok, YouTube and Instagram in the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, and the Netherlands.

Across the content reviewed, 45% offered guidance (content that provides general information about investments but does not recommend a particular course of action), 36% included investment promotions (marketing and advertisements of investment products), and 32 % included investment recommendations (content that recommends a specific course of action).

Just over half (53%) of content containing a promotion included a disclosure, compared with 20% of content containing a recommendation. 27 percent of content included an affiliate link.

Ignacio Ramirez Moreno, CFA, successful LinkedIn finfluencer added: “Many finfluencers inadvertently provide financial advice that may be subject to regulatory scrutiny or that violates applicable laws. Their intent to demystify finance frequently brushes against regulatory barriers, blurring the line between casual unregulated investment ideas and regulated financial advice.”

“These create not only legal risk to the finfluencer; they also pose potential harm to the followers acting on their guidance. The consequences can be particularly severe for those lacking in-depth financial literacy who place unwavering trust in the guidance of finfluencers. As such, the call for a harmonized regulatory framework that guides cross-border finance conversations on social media is loud and clear.”

The report offers five key recommendations to reduce policy complexity, strengthen disclosures, and bolster financial education and digital engagement practices for finance content creators, consumers, and social media moderators:

• That regulators co-operate to design and implement a more universal definition of an investment recommendation; engage with finfluencers to advise and clarify which influencer activities are regulated; and record and publicly report data on complaints and whistleblowing activities regarding finfluencers.

• That social media platforms enhance their controls and take additional responsibility in ensuring content creators clearly display posts that include advertising.

• That investment companies that use finfluencers provide them with compliance training if not already doing so; review finfluencer content before and immediately after it is posted to ensure it remains in compliance; maintain records of social media content commissioned; and ensure that finfluencers clearly disclosure when they are promoting content or are sponsored.

• That financial education providers enhance financial literacy initiatives and strengthen Gen Z investors’ ability to critically evaluate information through considering the motivations, qualifications, and consistency of finfluencer content.

• That professional investment advisers look to do more to engage Gen Z, promoting their knowledge, professional competency, duty of care and ethical responsibilities to stay competitive in an increasingly digitalized world.