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From Wall Street Trader to Social Media Star: Vivian Tu Shares How She Became “Your Rich BFF” 

Howard Gensler  |  August 8, 2023

Building wealth doesn’t have to be super complicated — Vivian Tu dishes on exactly how you can get started.

Although today there are more women working — and leading — in all industries than ever before, Wall Street is still overwhelmingly white and male. So is the financial planning industry. At HerMoney, we’re seeking to level the playing field for women’s financial confidence and power every day — and so is Vivian Tu. 

Vivian Tu is a former Wall Street trader and entrepreneur who’s also a personal finance educator. But you may know her best as “Your Rich BFF” on TikTok where she’s taught four and a half million followers how to save, invest, and grow their careers. Tu was also named to the Forbes 30 under 30 for 2023, and is the host of the popular personal finance podcast “Networth and Chill.”

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She recently sat down with Jean Chatzky on the HerMoney Podcast to share why she feels her mission in life is to make conversations about money less scary and more accessible to women, people of color and all marginalized communities who have been shut out of the financial world for far too long. 

What Working on Wall Street Was Really Like 

Vivivan Tu didn’t end up Wall Street because it was a life calling — rather, because it’s where all her fellow graduates at the University of Chicago were going. “I am a lemming,” Tu says. “I was basically following all of my friends off of that cliff.” 

After a very competitive internship, she ended up as a trader on the equities desk at JP Morgan. And it was tough.

“I am very much of the Chinese immigrant parent camp, so like I’m used to that tough love,” Tu says. “I’ve got a thick skin. And then I got to Wall Street. For the first year and a half, I had a great experience,” she says. “Did I get yelled at all the time? Yes. But it was always, ‘You did a bad job.’ ‘I am unhappy with your performance.’ ‘Learn better for next time.’ It was never personal.”

READ MORE: What The Different Types of Financial Planners Really Do, And How To Choose 

Then, Tu was offered a promotion that she couldn’t turn down. Unfortunately, that new job — and the people who surrounded her —  changed everything for the worse. “That was the beginning of the end for me,” she says. A lot of the criticism she was receiving at work “started to become very personal,” she says. “They started to attack things that I couldn’t change about myself. I got comments like, ‘ ‘You’re too girly for this job.’ ‘You need to be more serious.’ And I’m like, ‘What? What does that mean?’ Because I have a pink blouse on, you think I’m not serious?”

Tu says she wanted to stay in her job, but the problems continued to pile up. Not only was she frequently being overworked, but also others would often take credit for her work. Tu says the final straw was when she came to work one day wearing a long cardigan she’d purchased at Ann Taylor. Her manager asked if she was wearing a kimono.

The Move to Social Media

Although Tu’s parents did not want her to leave Wall Street, eventually she got a job at Buzzfeed working in brand partnerships. She found her people, made a name for herself, and made money — more money than she ever made on Wall Street. “That was a really defining moment for me,” she says. “To feel like I can be successful at anything I want to be successful at. It doesn’t have to be the path that everybody else is going down on.”

Eventually, Tu’s new friends in the media world  — aware of Tu’s Wall Street background — began asking her for financial advice: Can you help me rebalance my 401(k)? or Which health insurance plan should I pick? Tu realized that she was answering the same questions over and over again — and that’s when the lightbulb went off.

READ MORE: Need A Financial Advisor? How To Know What You Need Now

“I’m going to just start putting this content on the internet and you guys can watch my videos there,” Tu says. “That way I don’t have to keep saying the same thing over and over. That was what launched Your Rich BFF. It wasn’t meant for other people. It was literally meant for my coworkers.” 

But eventually, Tu started checking out what other financial influencers were posting, and found she was annoyed by all the bad guidance recommending that you, for example, throw all your money into Bitcoin, or buy Tesla with your stimulus check instead of using that money to pay rent. “Nobody in their right mind who has any understanding of finance would ever tell you to do this,” she says. “I said, I don’t have a get rich quick scheme to share with you, but if you want to actually understand finance, I can explain it to you. And that was it. That was the whole video.”

And that first video went viral. By the end of the week, the video had 3 million views and Tu had 100,000 followers.

The Value In Being Different 

Tu says she’s asked all the time how she overcame the challenge of being a young woman of color in the financial space, and her answer is clear:  “I didn’t succeed in spite of being a young Asian woman. I succeeded because of it,” she says.

“When you close your eyes and you visualize every single person you have ever seen on CNBC, you’re imagining a guy in a white button-down. He probably is balding a little bit, has a little bit of facial hair, and looks a little sweaty. And for the first time, people were looking at me,” she says. “Someone who looked like they could be anybody’s best friend from college. Suddenly that person was talking about money and suddenly you felt like it wasn’t as intimidating as it was when it looked like one of your dad’s friends was talking about money.”

Understanding The Value Of Money 

Tu is not a gambler when it comes to investing. “My parents are Chinese immigrants,” she says. “They’re super-duper frugal. My mom washes Ziploc bags. But that left me with some really great values as it pertains to budgeting, being really mindful with my spending, always knowing to get cash back, to use coupons to get a discount.”

And although on Wall Street Tu gained a mentor who loved carrying Chanel bags and wearing Gucci shoes, the mentor also stressed the importance of building real wealth. She would tell Tu: “‘You need to be contributing as much as you humanly can to your 401(k),’ or ‘If you have additional money, you should consider opening up a Roth IRA.’ or ‘When you go on vacation, here’s how to use credit card points so that you’re not paying so much money for your hotel or your flight.’”

“For me now,” Tu says, “I’m very focused on not only growing my wealth and building that financial foundation, but also still being really mindful about how I spend the money I have.”

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