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Updated: Aug 22, 2022

Originally published at

When I say the word ‘influencer’, what do you think of? Perky women living their best life in athleisure wear? Bearded hipsters deconstructing capitalism through latté art? Or smug self-help gurus doling out dubious life advice on LinkedIn? And which, of any of these, would you trust for financial advice?

This was the question asked and answered by Singapore’s Ministry of Finance in 2018 when they recruited more than 50 influencers of various notoriety ranging from micro (under 5,000 followers) to, er, macro?  

They were trying to engage Singapore’s ‘yoof’ in the soon-to-be-announced budget, but were roundly criticised for their choice of medium i.e. influencers. On this occasion, it seemed the medium was very much not the message.

But the medium is not passive. Like Soylent Green, the medium is people. People who, one presumes, had a choice about participating in the campaign? So, what is their responsibility to their audience? Or their client for that matter? Do they even have a responsibility or is it fine for them to just take the money and run?

Digital creator and marketer Chelsea Teng (@Cheowster) was one of those tapped for the budget campaign. She said she was surprised to be asked but didn’t question the brief. Her audience of 18-25 year old Singaporeans don’t pay much attention to the budget so the campaign “definitely raised awareness”.  

She was, however, shocked by the backlash – and was even provoked to respond angrily to one critic, which one can only imagine was not one of her deliverables. Why would the ordinarily conservative Ministry of Finance take a risk working with unregulated influencers, who can pick fights with their fans?

Andrew Thomas, managing director at Ogilvy PR in Singapore, believes the financial authorities are under pressure to “get with the programme” as Alipay, Grab and now Facebook try to get in on the game. He says the industry is going through massive change and in trying to be contemporary is doing things they’ve not done before.

But he warns: “Buyer beware on both sides. Rigour is required in the selection process; ask yourself, would you consort with these people around a dining table? Would you be happy about them talking about you?”  

So, it’s not about just using any influencers, but the right influencers then? Matthew Zheng, founding partner at Dstnct – a youth-focussed creative agency and sister company to influencer network Gushcloud – agrees. “We never let our clients tell us who to use, there has to be a rationale,” he says. 

“We like to dig deep into the strategy and the objectives before we recommend an influencer.”  

He believes there are no “off subjects” for influencers but that the approach is essential. “You cannot look at influencers as a media channel, they are people,” he says. We’re back to Soylent Green again.

Meanwhile, Matt Sutton – CEO of influencer marketing platform Whalar – sees “no reason why a beauty influencer couldn’t take a finance product to market if it fits into her narrative and she authentically believes in it”. This is possibly where the MoF campaign fell down, many of the posts I saw felt inauthentic and obligatory. They may have reached the right audience but with the wrong message.  

“Done right, influencer marketing is powerful,” says Sutton. “A creator is a publisher through which you can tell a story. Influencers can get the kind of scale of television plus the authenticity of reaching out through the influencer who can localise and personalise, and bring the messagings to life.”  There’s that word again, authenticity.

Clearly there are a great number of questions remaining around the use of influencers. Not least, what constitutes an influencer? What, if anything, is the correct code of conduct on both sides? And how can they best be used in highly sensitive and regulated industries such as finance?  

Join me and my fellow contributors – including CEO of The New Savvy Anna Haotanto – on August 29 at the Mumbrella Asia Finance Marketing Summit to continue this discussion and get to the bottom of the timely question: ‘Is there a place for influencers in finance marketing?’

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