Online financial communities can be a mine of useful information if you choose carefully

Online financial communities can be a mine of useful information if you choose carefully

Do be wary of online advice but internet communities aren’t all bad How do you build a financial community? Take the internet, add thousands of consumers hungry for help and solidarity, sprinkle in a good dose of disillusionment with the financial establishment… voilà!

You have created not just a message board, a forum or a following, but a bona fide community of people happy to share their financial worries, hopes and advice. Or, you know, to egg one another on towards financial apocalypse, in some cases.

Social media has given rise to an infinite, eclectic range of financial communities in recent years. The most (in)famous is the WallStreetBets group on Reddit. It is widely held to be responsible for several extreme phenomena in the US stock market, like the personality cult surrounding Elon Musk and rise of so-called “meme stocks” such as the retailer Gamestop.

To scroll down its feed is to take a trip into the mind of an alienated, self-destructive, unreconstructed bro who sees the stock market as a cross between a casino and cruel initiation ceremony. But look beyond this peculiar niche and you’ll find hundreds of broader – dare I say saner? – money and investing communities online.

Membership numbers range from the nano (less than 1,000) to the macro (more than 100,000). Many are run by influencers and entrepreneurs who profit from their expertise through sponsored content and events, affiliate promotions or straight-up advertising. But many are moderated by anonymous volunteers. These have no top-down leadership or commercial incentives – just ordinary people posting questions and answers to one another in admirable detail.

Perhaps one of the best-known examples is the UK Personal Finance (PF) community on Reddit, which has nearly 700,000 members. Recent topics have covered everything from life insurance and credit cards to pensions and registering for self-assessment taxes.

Moderating a financial community seems like a bit of a thankless task. No pay, not much recognition or thanks and endless hours spent reading through posts to check that they are on topic, in-depth, high quality and helpful. The UK PF community has 15 rules on what can and can’t be posted, the first of which is “be nice, civil discourse, don’t judge”.

Moderators must also frequently reset the parameters of the group. The UK PF community on Reddit has a moratorium on questions about home buying, investing and benefits – subjects that could swamp the feed and are covered in other communities. It has also banned “boys club” comments that propose selling pornographic content on the site OnlyFans, or buying cryptocurrency to get rich quick.

I can only conclude that moderators take public-spirited satisfaction from knowing that they’re protecting these safe spaces so anyone can crowdsource financial wisdom. When I first came across the UK PF group, I was sceptical. Why ask strangers for advice on what to do with your money? Also, surely sites like Reddit are home to some of the darkest corners of the internet, where anonymity unleashes bigoted, ill-informed echo chambers?

However, as I’ve become more of a “lurker” (i.e. someone who reads
but never posts) I’ve realised that there is a huge gulf between WallStreetBets, which revels in its deranged toxicity, and financial communities like UK PF, which are far more constructive and compassionate. Yes, there’s a lack of real-world accountability with anonymous advice, and some posters can be irritating know-it-alls.

But the best financial communities have a strong sense of fair play and encourage open debate. They effectively tap into people’s desire to help others (or at least show off what they’ve learned) and recognise that often there isn’t a simple, one-size-fits-all answer.

As a member, you’re trusted to take on board a variety of facts and views so you can make up your own mind. I find this a refreshing alternative to some of the stiff diktats that circulate around the financial industry but are never questioned (eg why save only three months’ worth of outgoings?) You can also be completely honest with people you don’t know, and they can’t let their closeness to you cloud their comments.

I have certainly gained some helpful new perspectives since joining the UK PF subreddit. I’ve been questioning the term “side hustle” after posters pointed out its strange gangster vibes. I was shocked to find out how much pressure posters felt to use car finance to upgrade cars to keep up with the Joneses.

And it was sobering to have it rammed home that my marginal tax rate will be effectively 42.5 per cent above £20,184 this year, thanks to higher […]

source Online financial communities can be a mine of useful information if you choose carefully

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