Personal Finance Creator Vivian Tu is Building an Empire as the Best Friend You’ve Always Wanted (or Wanted to Be)

The ex-Wall Street Trader is on a mission to make personal financial literacy inclusive and accessible for marginalized communities—all while balancing a full-time job

By Tiff Soga

March 14, 2022

 

Laughter could undoubtedly be heard from outside the apartment as Vivian Tu lamented over the unnecessary complexities of NFTs—essentially virtual beanie babies—while the other person on her laptop cackled away having just confessed that her partner had spent one hour the other night trying to explain the “non-fathomable topic” to her.

At first blush, this conversation would have appeared to be a catch-up session between friends when in truth, it was a perfect example of the warm, welcoming, and familiar mood the ex-Wall Street Trader-turned-financial influencer (or finfluencer, if we’re being trendy) naturally sets for business calls and interviews. Vivian is creating an empire based on a strong sense of friendship, after all.

YourRichBFF is Vivian’s way of educating the masses on basic/not-so-basic personal finance jargon, concepts, and hacks—all for free on TikTok and Instagram! A daughter of Chinese immigrants, Vivian is breaking out of the “better to save a dollar than spend a dollar” and “talking about money is taboo” mindsets, instead creating viral, bite-size content meant to educate her followers on financial literacy—over 1 million on TikTok and 262 thousand on Instagram at the time of this interview!

But building an empire and growing a financially sustainable business during the wee hours of the night is exhausting, and when your brand is essentially you, it’s hard not to take every doubt, struggle, and failure personally. Vivian has a lot to share about the ups and downs of career shifting, how she deals with side-hustle burnout, and how she stays motivated to continue serving multiple communities with information seldom offered to the lot of us. 

Check out YourRichBFF’s TikTok, Money Tool Recommendations, and Book Lists here!

On finding inspiration where you’d least expect it

I, like many UChicago students, ended up on Wall Street. I traded equities (a.k.a. stocks) for about two and a half years, and then I ended up pivoting my career over to the tech media side of things. When I got there, all of my new colleagues were like, “You’re from Wall Street! You’re going to rebalance my 401K!” And I thought, “Okay, but… you’re 40 and have, like, two kids and, like, a significant other, and you live in the suburbs! I’m 24 and don’t have a responsibility in the entire world…” It made me laugh because personal finance is not one-size-fits-all

A lot of people were looking for a quick, easy solution, and it got to a point where so many people were asking me questions that I thought, “I’m going to make a social media channel!” But I never did—until COVID hit. 

Personal finance is not one-size-fits-all

—Vivian Tu, YourRichBff

On (accidentally) creating a brand in response to a global pandemic

A few months into COVID, I started seeing really—REALLY—sketchy stuff going on on the Internet: people pushing MLMs; people advocating for other people to put their stimulus checks into crypto; and to do stuff that no financial advisor or even just sane person would recommend for somebody who needs that money!

I thought, “This is so stupid. People are getting swindled and duped!” and that just didn’t make me feel good. So I was like, “You know what? I’ll just make a video. It’ll probably just be, like, my coworkers watching, and even if I can just help them, that’ll be nice!” 

First video goes up, and overnight, I gain 100,000 followers, and I kind of had an “Oh no” moment because I realized, “I really have to start making content now.”

Since then, I’ve put out a piece of content pretty much every single day. The YourRichBFF TikTok account now has over a million followers. On Instagram, we have over 262,000 followers, and the brand has really blown up! 

First video goes up, and overnight, I gain 100,000 followers, and I kind of had an “Oh no” moment because I realized, “I really have to start making content now.”

—Vivian Tu, YourRichBff

On uplifting community through financial literacy

The financial services industry just super sucks, right? There is so much jargon and if you are not in the “in” group, you don’t understand that language. You don’t speak that vocabulary. People are yelling things like “compound interest,” and then people come to me asking, “Where can I get compound interest?” Literally just by investing! It’s the principle that compound interest is based on. It’s not some specific account. It’s not some fancy thing that you have to go buy. “Compound interest” happens when your money grows on top of your money. There’s a really big miscommunication of how this concept has been explained to generations.

Personal finance, for so long, has been very male and very pale—and I don’t fit either of those. Instead, I speak to groups of people whom I lovingly have dubbed “The Leftovers.” You’ve got women, you’ve got people of color, you’ve got marginalized communities like the LGBTQ community, and nobody has made financial literacy inclusive for them. Now, all of a sudden, you have someone who looks like me and is young like me and makes jokes like me. And instead of advice or financial jargon coming from some old guy in a suit, it’s coming from someone you could see yourself going to dinner or having a drink with—just a normal person! I think that’s why people really like this bite-size content that teaches them something.

@yourrichbff

Reply to @tennislover25 My parents didn’t pay for my home, but they did set me up for financial success. #money #parents #generationalwealth #finance

♬ abcdefu – GAYLE

Personal finance, for so long, has been very male and very pale—and I don’t fit either of those.

—Vivian Tu, YourRichBFF

On changing careers to building a money-focused brand as an Asian American in a culture where finance talk is a little (read: a lot) taboo

I hid YourRichBFF from my parents for eight months. They didn’t find out until September 2021. We got into a pretty big fight when I left Wall Street because they thought, “We sent you to UChicago—that’s an expensive school. You came out and got the dream job. What the heck? Now you’re pivoting out of the entire industry? You’re an idiot!” And I still made that move. I didn’t talk to my parents for two months. It wasn’t until I started to make more money in tech and in media when they were like, “Okay, maybe this was the right move. Maybe you did okay.”

And I was on a really good path. I was making a bunch of money, but I just wasn’t ready to share it yet. I don’t know if you heard the Sara Blakely interview about how she literally hid the fact that she was making Spanx for a whole year before she told anybody, but I didn’t want anybody to know about YourRichBFF, or at least anybody whose opinion would crush me. I didn’t want them to know about YourRichBFF until I was ready. I made that decision for me. 

On so many phone calls with my parents, they’d say, “Why are you so tired?” I’d say, “Work’s busy,” not explaining that I now had a second job and was building an empire. When I told them about eight or nine months in, I thought that they were going to be really negative about it. To your point, Asian parents are very private and quiet—humility and being docile are all considered positive traits! But I’m out here on TikTok being like, “Ha! Look at this new apartment I bought! This is how much it costs! This is what my taxes are! This is what I make!” For them, it was a bit of a shell shock.

But when they saw that I was able to grow it into a real brand, and that I was getting brand partnerships and making money from something that brought me a lot of joy, they’ve actually become some of my biggest fans. Bloomberg did a piece on me, and they sent a photographer to take professional photos for the article. My mom downloaded the image and uses that image of me—it’s like a glamour shot of me looking into the distance—and she uses it as her phone background. It’s so embarrassing; I’m looking off into the distance with dead eyes…But she loves it! She’s like, “This is such a good photo of you!”

So yeah, it’s silly, but I didn’t share the making of YourRichBFF until I was comfortable. It’s like how some people don’t share that they’re pregnant until they’re past the danger zone. I decided, “I am not sharing YourRichBFF with Vivian Tu’s circle, except for the very close inner circle, until I’m ready.” And once I was ready, it was like, “Everyone can know! I don’t care what you think!”

I hid YourRichBFF from my parents for eight months. . . But when they saw that I was able to grow it into a real brand, and that I was getting brand partnerships and making money from something that brought me a lot of joy, they’ve actually become some of my biggest fans.

—Vivian Tu, YourRichBFF

On the origin of the name “YourRichBFF”

I went to UChicago and I had a very close-knit group of girlfriends, and out of all of them, I am the dumbest one. One of my best friends is now a plastic surgery resident at Georgetown; one of them is getting their PhD from Penn in Physics; two of them are at Booth Business School; one of them is in law school. And I thought, “You know what? A Bachelor’s degree was kind of hard to get already! I’m pretty good!” 

We all joked that I was the only friend who was like, “Yeah, I’m going straight to making money, straight into the workforce. You will not catch me back at school!” For a while, my friends would joke when referring to me, “Oh, this is our rich friend.” Because people would say, “Oh, we have to go to this wedding. Which hotel should we stay at?” And I’d say, “The Four Seasons?” And they’d all go, “Okay, rich friend! Calm down!” 

That’s where the name came from, because knowing where my friends were from a financial position, whenever we would have dinner together or when one of them would visit me, I would pick up the tab. It became a running joke: “Haha, I’m so lucky I’ve got a rich best friend!” And that’s where the name came from. 

My friends are my number one hype men. There’s a constant photo of my face in our group chat, and they’d say, “Scrolling through Facebook, saw Viv again today!” They’re super supportive. I feel endlessly lucky to have friends who support my wins as they would celebrate their own. And I mean, that’s just a real testament to good friends, right?

On balancing side-hustle jobs and full-time jobs while building an empire

First of all, I think if you are picking up a side hustle, you better really love that side hustle. You really need to have a passion for it. With YourRichBFF, this was a way for me to blend my passions for finance, technology, and—just being a child of the internet—social media. Balancing the work is not easy. I work full-time during the day and then in the evenings, I have to respond to emails, I have to do more work, and my weekends are now dedicated to YourRichBFF. 

I’m definitely tired. I don’t think it’s this glamorous, entrepreneur life. It’s not that! But I think it’s still a worthwhile venture because for one, I get so many DMs that say, “Without your channel, I would be so lost” or “You’ve helped me so much!”

Two, I don’t know if you saw this recent video about this guy who explains the concept of Ikigai, a Japanese term of finding something that you’re good at, that helps the world, and that you can get paid for, which basically has to fall into this four-part Venn diagram. I feel like that’s what I found!

I take a lot of 5 and 6 p.m. meetings and have to artificially shine light on myself because it’s dark, but it’s been super rewarding. For example, I created a video about MissingMONEY.com. It’s essentially a website where the government lists money that you may have completely forgotten about, whether it be a security deposit or insurance payout—whatever, just money that is unclaimed. I had a woman DM me and tell me this terrible story about how her late partner passed away and that she didn’t realize he had a life insurance policy, and that she was the beneficiary. She messaged me and said, “I want to let you know that because of you, I’m about to come into a life-changing sum of money right now,” and it just changed her life. Had she not seen that video, her trajectory would look completely different. For me to be able to do that, for free in my home, in my jammies? It makes me feel really good. When I get these messages that are telling me that it’s working, who can ask for more than that?

On side-hustle burnout and asking for help/getting support when needed

I’ve been burnt out since 2020! I’m just like a little piece of coal left—help me! Haha no, no. I do get burnt out. I have tried to use holidays and vacation time to my advantage to try to unburn, but I think, ever since starting to work from home, burnouts have gotten bad, not just from the fact that I work two jobs, but from the fact that people working from home all feel this way. I would probably feel this way even if I was just working my regular job! But at least I have something to show for it now—something that I call mine, that I own, a brand that I built from nothing. 

Burnout sucks, 100% agree. I try to do my best to keep afloat, and a big part of that is also making strategic additions to my team, like hiring a lawyer so I don’t have to read contracts anymore. Like, I’m not doing that anymore! Or I’m thinking about taking on management and stuff like that, and these are all things that will hopefully take the burden off of me a little bit.

On working “on” versus working “in” your business and the freedoms of being a self-employed content creator

I’m not getting nearly enough sleep, but I think there’s something really freeing about the buck stopping with me. I can be the decision person. I decide if I want to take this interview. I decide if I want to take on this branded partnership. And for me, I have always been someone who can very much deal with the idea of “eat what you kill.” What I can’t deal with is something that isn’t a meritocracy or an infrastructure that doesn’t reward the hardest working, most-committed person. 

There are definitely people who work super hard at social media but it doesn’t pay off, and I’ll even say I’ve had periods where I question, “Why am I not growing? Why is nothing going viral?” When it’s your face on the line, you definitely take it personally! When people leave you nasty comments, you take it personally. But after a while, I got to this point where I believe I’m helping more than I’m hurting. This is a net positive on the Internet, especially when most things on the Internet now are silly videos or people dancing. My content actually provides a service and provides value to people that otherwise wouldn’t be able to access it.

So for me, it’s a very freeing experience to know that I can move at my own pace. There’s nobody behind me being like, “Did you hit your quota for the week?” That’s me. I am my boss, and I have the right to say to myself, “You need to take it easy this week.” But I also have the right to be like, “Hey, you’ve taken it easy. Now it’s time to put the pedal to the metal and put your nose to the grindstone.” I’m just trying to find a good balance because, as many first-gen immigrant children know, it’s always, “Go, go, go!” But I had to come to this epiphany that rest is not something that you earn. Rest is something that you deserve.

My content actually provides a service and provides value to people that otherwise wouldn’t be able to access it.

—Vivian Tu, YourRichBff

On how a full-time job supports and provides that freedom and ability to reclaim your own time 

As for the day job, I think it’s given me both pros and cons. On the cons side, it takes up 50 to 60 hours of my week. I’m tired, I have other commitments, and I am someone who’s good at their job and who works really hard, so I’m not going to put my job second. Somebody hired me—I’m going to do a good job!

On the pro side though, because I know I have a W2 job that I can count on, I don’t have to be like, “Oh well, I got to make rent this month. I guess I’ll partner with this brand who’s less than savory.” I have the luxury of being super picky with who I can take on as a partner because I know I don’t need their money—I was doing fine just with my day job. I don’t need your money, but I’ll take your money! And if I was going to make content about you anyway because I like your brand, that’s a plus plus! I get to be really decisive about who I do and don’t work with because I have that full-time job. 

On the future of YourRichBFF

100%, I think of taking on YourRichBFF full time! I will say I love my job and I love YourRichBFF, but I don’t love doing both at once, and I don’t think anybody would because it’s a huge commitment in terms of time and mental load and everything! I think it’s a very scary feeling, like you’re jumping out of the airplane, no parachute, just kind of hoping you’re good, but there’s more that I want to do! I want to create long form content. I want to write that book. I want to have that podcast, and eventually, it’ll come to a head where I’m going to have to make a decision. That is something that I’m working towards!

I’m just trying to find a good balance because, as many first-gen immigrant children know, it’s always, “Go, go, go!” But I had to come to this epiphany that rest is not something that you earn. Rest is something that you deserve.

—Vivian Tu, YourRichBff