SAO PAULO: With his tattooed arms, drop-fade haircut and baby-face looks, Murilo Duarte doesn’t look like a typical financial adviser as he dishes out investment tips on social media from the Sao Paulo favela where he grew up. Duarte, 28, who has more than a million followers on social media, is one of the “finfluencers” — financial influencers — who have gone viral in Brazil, bringing financial education to the masses in a country known for its gaping inequalities.

“You don’t have to have a lot of money to be an investor, but you have to get your accounts organized first,” says one video by Duarte, better known as “Favelado Investidor,” or Investor from the Favelas. “The idea is to democratize access to financial education and the world of investing, especially for the lower classes forgotten by society,” Duarte told AFP. Smart and charismatic, Duarte grew up in Jardim Joao XXIII, a poor neighborhood on the west side of Sao Paulo, Brazil’s economic capital.

He put himself through accounting school working as an intern at a notary public’s office, then co-founded a financial education company in 2019. By 2021, he had made his first million reais (around $185,000). He now lives in an upscale neighborhood, employs 12 people at his company and is one of the most prominent voices promoting financial literacy in Latin America’s biggest economy.

“No matter where you’re from, you can get wherever you want if you work hard,” he tells followers on YouTube, Instagram and TikTok. But he cautions against get-rich-quick schemes. Getting on solid financial footing “is step-by-step,” he says. “I started to see real results in my personal finances after eight, nine, 10 years. I’m clear about that: I’m not selling a dream that’s going to happen overnight. It’s a process.”


Real-world economics

Including financial analysts, traders and less traditional profiles like Duarte’s, there are more than 1,250 “finfluencer” profiles in Brazil, one of the world’s biggest social media-using countries, according to a recent report by financial industry group ANBIMA. They have more than 165 million followers in all. “There’s been a huge increase in Brazilians’ interest in economic information,” said Amanda Brum, ANBIMA’s executive manager for communications and marketing.

“Social networks allow (specialists) to build a direct connection with users, which helps their followers trust and identify with them.” The online gurus’ tips are not all about multiplying income. Many give advice on day-to-day issues, such as dealing with fast-rising prices, in a country where the annual inflation rate hit more than 12 percent last year, before falling back to 4.18 percent currently.

Clayton Silva, who follows Duarte and also comes from a favela, says he was “drowning in debt and spiraling food prices” — common problems for working-class families in Brazil. But “his advice changed the way I manage my money: I don’t borrow anymore, and I’m building up an emergency fund” for rainy days, said the 28-year-old driver and father of two. Next step, he says: invest in the Sao Paulo stock exchange. The number of individual investors in Latin America’s biggest stock market grew 19 percent last year, to five million, notably driven by young investors, says Felipe Paiva of B3, the company that manages the exchange.


From Instagram to Brasilia

Financial education exploded on social media during COVID-19 stay-at-home measures in Brazil, when the economy imploded and many people were left looking for new income. Fueling the trend, “the interest rate hit a historic low of two percent, motivating investors to diversify” in search of higher returns, said Marilia Fontes, a founding partner of investment firm Nord Research and a top financial influencer herself. Some “finfluencers” have gotten so big their influence now reaches far beyond social media.

Nathalia Rodrigues, a 24-year-old business administration specialist, grew up in a poor neighborhood on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. Now known as “Nath Finance,” she went viral using a four-year-old cell phone to give free financial advice to other Brazilians like herself on YouTube. Last month, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva named her to his Sustainable Economic Development Council, a civil society panel to help the government develop public policy. — AFP