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TikTok-famous San Franciscan makes personal finance easy to understand

Humphrey Yang edits a short video about financing a car that will be posted to his TikTok account, which has over 3 million followers, in San Francisco on Wednesday. | Justin Katigbak for The Standard.

Humphrey Yang’s personal finance videos—which many viewers first discovered through their TikTok algorithm—can sometimes feel like an informative oasis in the midst of braindead scrolling. 

The 35-year-old has gained more than 3.3 million followers on his @HumphreyTalks account, with videos spanning explanations of how tax brackets work, how lottery payouts are organized and how much a bowling alley earns.

Much of his content is focused on breaking down complex financial terminology into easy-to-digest metaphors. 

His explanation of short selling uses the example of an iPhone as an asset that’s borrowed and sold upfront for a higher price before being purchased a year later at a lower price, allowing the seller to pocket the difference.  

“That’s the thread throughout all of my content: Break it down and make it easy for folks to understand,” Yang said

Yang has always been interested in money and how it moves through the world. His first business venture was selling sodas to his classmates in elementary school.

A composite image shows Humphrey Yang, left, in his office where he records TikTok videos about finances, and a detail photo of "The Taxable Investor’s Manifesto," right. | Justin Katigbak for The Standard.

Since then, he’s worked in a number of professional roles, including in the video game industry, as a financial advisor with Merrill Lynch and a co-owner of an online print shop. Prior to becoming an online financial guru, he was the guy his friends relied on for advice about money. 

Yang said was always enamored with video-based creators as an audience member and decided to use his own personal expertise to help others.  

Like any successful entrepreneur, Yang is starting to branch out. He has started a Substack newsletter on business news and is working on migrating his time, energy and audience to his YouTube, where he has grown his subscriber base to more than 1 million people. 

“There's a constant need to diversify as a creator because you don't want to rely on just one platform,” Yang said. “If it gets killed, then you’re screwed.”

Yang said he relishes the ability to go deeper into topics, alongside the financial benefit. While TikTok videos often have greater reach, the actual way to monetize the content is through sponsors. Yang said that a million views on TikTok translates to less than $10.

On YouTube, the process is much more straightforward; ads are served on the video, and the creator gets a portion of that cut. He’s gone from earning about 15% of his revenue through YouTube ads last year to 40% this year. 

“You build a real audience because people are choosing to view the content, whereas on TikTok you’re just being served it,” Yang said. 

Yang started out trying to make YouTube videos in 2019, but his early attempts flopped. While scrolling through TikTok (which back then was mostly teens doing choreographed dances), he searched under the hashtag personal finance and essentially found nothing. 

“So at the end of 2019, I started making videos on TikTok and got traction super fast,” Yang said. “I think my first one was explaining what a credit score was. It’s a really shitty video, but it still got like 10,000 views.”

He set out a goal for himself to make one video a month. At the end of the 30 days, he had gained some 120,000 followers.

Last year, Fortune Magazine wrote a profile on Yang, citing a survey from Consumer Affairs that found that he was the personal finance guru that Gen Z trusted the most, edging out Warren Buffet, among others. Yang was surprised—although flattered—by the honor.

“I don’t have $100 billion,” Yang quipped.

Still, he takes his responsibility as a financial advisor seriously. Yang said he was wary during the meme stock and crypto hype waves in 2021 and turned down a sponsorship offer from FTX prior to their blowup, a decision he now calls a “blessing in disguise.”

Humphrey Yang sits in his office in San Francisco where he records videos about finances, on Wednesday, May 24, 2023. | Justin Katigbak for The Standard.

“I think the younger generation does not trust investing as much. They don’t believe there will be returns 40 years down the line,” Yang said. “They also have mistrust of what will build their wealth.”

It makes sense. Yang cited statistics showing the vast majority of young people living paycheck to paycheck and how tuition and home prices have vastly outstripped wage gains. 

Still, he said everyone can take their first step to a better future by confronting their financial reality. Yang recommends writing out all expenses and income in a ledger to figure out how much is coming in versus going out. 

“We want to teach you how to fish and give you all the frameworks and foundations to figure out your own personal finances,” he said.

Yang recently moved from Redwood City to a place in San Francisco's Marina District a few blocks away from the waterfront. So the relevant question is: Why does it make financial sense to live in San Francisco?

“It really doesn’t,” he said. “But I was just looking for a change socially, and a lot of things are easier up here.”

But, he noted, he also got a really good deal on his rent-controlled apartment.

Kevin Truong can be reached at