In a TikTok video with 14.5 million views, Humphrey Yang depicts a father giving his son an iPhone 13 on the condition that he be returned within a year.
The son (also played by Yang in the sketch) explains that he could sell the phone for $1,000 and wait for Apple to release a new model within the year, which would likely bring the price of the iPhone 13 down to $600. Buying it at the time would net him a profit of $400. A year passes, and the father asks to get the phone back. The son returns it and admits his plan.
“So you made a profit on me!” replies the father. “I just showed you what short selling a stock is. You borrow a share of a stock, and when it comes to giving it back, if you can buy it back cheaply, you realize a profit or you will suffer a loss.
Yang knows that shorting a stock can be a difficult concept to grasp, he says. Fortune in an interview. “So I used a simple analogy that most people can relate to.”
His simple analogy approach to financial education resonated with 3.3 million followers on TikTok. Although the app does not provide clear demographics on this fan base, nearly half of TikTok users are under 30. And a screenshot from YouTube Analytics Yang provided to Fortune shows that more than 75% of viewers of Yang’s abridged YouTube videos are under the age of 34.
His popularity on social media is part of why he’s the most trusted source of financial advice among Gen Z, as a recent Consumer Affairs survey revealed. Boomers and Gen Xers, by far, trust Warren Buffett the most. But the Berkshire Hathaway CEO fell to fourth place for Gen Z.
Given Gen Z’s affinity for TikTok, the discovery makes sense, but is still a bit surprising. Buffett, 91, is one of the world’s most seasoned investors, known for his frugal ways and $103 billion net worth. Yang, meanwhile, is a 34-year-old finance graduate who spent a year as a financial advisor at Merrill Lynch and five months as an intern at a Palo Alto investment bank. He then moved into operations management for a mobile app and co-founded a custom art company before finally landing on YouTube in 2019.
Where Buffett exchanges keynotes, Yang exchanges skits filmed and edited in his Bay Area apartment. Fortune spoke with Yang about how he’s managed to capture Gen Z’s attention, which he attributes to his ability to break down and demystify dense financial topics.
The secret sauce to becoming a personal finance influencer
Yang began posting videos on YouTube after realizing he had become his friends’ go-to person for financial advice, thinking his character could translate, but never predicting how much it would resonate. .
He quickly downloaded future TikTok, searched for personal finance hashtags, and found almost no videos. “I took that as a sign,” he recalls. “I thought, ‘maybe I can be the first person to do this.'”
Between September 2019 and September 2020, Yang made a video every day. Although he has a presence on YouTube and Instagram, his TikTok account has held his full-time attention for nearly two years.
Yang remained consistent in his approach, simplifying complex financial topics without an iota of superiority in quick and simple videos.
He says he tries not to waste the viewer’s time because the attention span is so short, adding that he wants everyone to be able to understand the often confusing basics of finance and economics.
“The whole industry feels like a black box to a lot of people,” he says. “They don’t even want to get into it because it can seem so confusing. There’s so much jargon, and things on TV aren’t necessarily self-explanatory or easy to watch. People don’t want to look at charts and graphs.
What’s missing, he says, is accessibility and an on-ramp to the subject that doesn’t scare people away. “The more a creator can somehow disarm the viewer – help them realize that finance isn’t so difficult once they understand the key concepts – the more empowering they can empower.”
Bridging the Financial Knowledge Gap
Yang’s “North Star Goal” impacts people and encourages them to take control of their own finances. He understands people’s reluctance to invest; Yang himself didn’t make his first investment until he was 25 years old.
“I was afraid!” He recalls. “I didn’t even have confidence in myself yet. I have very smart friends in their thirties who work in technology, and even they are hesitant to invest because they fear they don’t know enough. This is a knowledge gap that needs to be filled.
But Yang, by his own admission, has a long way to go to accomplish this mission. He says it’s largely complicated by people’s lack of trust in financial advisers and personal finance gurus, and how predatory credit companies and interest rates can be.
In Yang’s eyes, not all personal finance influencers have the best interests of the viewer at heart. Skeptical of those trying to sell trading courses, Yang says he’s more interested in personal finance education to the point where viewers feel comfortable investing for themselves .
“If I wanted quick money, I would sell a course promising a certain amount of money in 30 days, but I just don’t believe in that stuff,” he says, adding that he would be open to explain “all kinds of things” if he wanted to broaden his audience.
He remembers one time when he was having lunch at a restaurant when two people in their twenties approached him and said that his videos had encouraged them to start contributing to a Roth IRA and making investments.
“The fact that they looked at something that was mine and then got inspired to do something for themselves, that’s the end goal,” he says. “I am a millennial; I’ve never had access to this stuff. I didn’t know what a mortgage was until I was 23. But Gen Z has it all.
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