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Soothing or ‘absurd?’ Pretend advisors roleplay as planners in YouTube videos

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Imagine conducting a meeting with a client in an almost-whisper, discussing annuities and tax deductions in soothing tones. Perhaps you run your fingers slowly across a budget spreadsheet while referencing spending and take-home pay.

While no reputable wealth management meeting resembles the above scenario, non-advisors are roleplaying as financial planners for an online audience hungry to hear about cash withdrawals and weekly budget numbers delivered in this unique way. These videos are meant to trigger ASMR, or autonomous sensory meridian response, a tingling sensation that causes some viewers to experience momentary euphoria and calm.

For some viewers, financial topics presented in this gentle way helps them overcome fear about discussing money. Advisors, however, have a different take.

The financial ASMR videos are “absurd,” says Ross Gerber, CEO of Gerber Kawasaki Wealth and Investment Management in Santa Monica, California.

In general, ASMR videos are characterized by a gamut of visual and auditory triggers, from people noisily eating pickles to the rustling sound of fingers rubbing against each other. Some have millions of views. One popular ASMR video has the rapper Cardi B purring into a microphone and admitting in a whispery tone that she listen to ASMR videos everyday to relax before going to sleep.

Some major corporate players are exploring the phenomenon. In August, Apple released four iPhone-shot ASMR videos as part of its “shot on iPhone” campaign. The videos include titles such as “Satisfying woodshop sounds” and “Crunching sounds on the trail.”

While ASMR has yet to be endorsed by any financial institution, there are dozens of YouTube channels, where people pretending to be advisors and educators offer basic budgeting advice in calming tones.One channel, Gentle Whispering ASMR, has more than 1.7 million subscribers. It features Maria Viktorovna as she talks softly to viewers in the character of a bank teller while checking bank balances, opening new accounts and withdrawing cash.

In another video, the proprietor of ASMR Power of Sound role-plays as a bank branch financial advisor. He gently prods the audience about their weekly budget, grocery bills and other household expenses.

Sometimes the video purveyors are also viewers. “I watch them every night before I go to bed. They help me relax and unwind and destress,” said the woman who runs the BreadandButter ASMR channel on YouTube which features a personal financial advisor/budget consultant video. Due to privacy concerns, she declined to give her name, describing herself instead as a 30-something professional with a law degree.

What’s the appeal of financial services ASMR? For some, they may replace feelings of discomfort attached to discussions of financial topics with a sensation of well-being.

“That person is caring for you. They are doing something helpful for you,” says Craig Richard, a professor in biopharmaceutical sciences at Shenandoah University in Winchester, Virginia, who has studied the MRI scans of people who say they benefit from ASMR. “Our brains feel relaxed during those moments because we are registering that other person as non threatening. It’s telling your brain that you are with somebody safe.”

There may be even more appreciation for financial services roleplaying because managing money is highly emotional, Richard says.

The woman who creates BreadandButter ASMR uses a calculator in her videos because she found the buttons’ clicking sounds are calming.

“You take something that can be stressful and overwhelming, like dealing with personal finances, and you take it off their plate, guiding them through it. They don’t have to worry about it because you handling it for them. It’s a very comforting feeling for the viewers,” she says.

Michael Bryant, a 37-year-old voice coach from Jersey City, has a popular video in which he roleplays as a bank teller, talking in a soft voice while shuffling papers. The video is intended to trigger ASMR tingles and lull viewers. It’s effective, Bryant says, because unlike its real world counterpart, this reenactment allows viewers to relax into a state of serenity and calm.

The appeal of finance ASMR videos goes beyond the tingles. A North Carolina woman behind SouthernASMR Sounds, who would only be identified by her first name, Mary, says viewers have requested videos on personal budgeting and money management because they wanted advice provided in a soothing manner. One video on budgeting earned 200 comments with people praising her for providing financial wisdom and not being “judgey.”

YouTube is a popular place for ASMR financial advice videos

A commenter wrote, “I think you are very smart and a good advisor.”

Other budget advice videos she has produced have garnered as much as 30,000 views. “I think people get relaxed when something is explained to them,” Mary says.

Financial advisors’ reactions to the videos range from astonished to accepting.

“I think it’s hysterical,” says Kawasaki Wealth’s Gerber. He says he believes viewers can become sexually aroused by ASMR financial advice videos because the sensations they prompt are similar to those created by pornograpy. “When it comes to sex, people are into really weird things,” he says.

Bill Winterberg, founder and president of FPPad.com, a technology consultancy for financial advisers, says he finds the ASMR phenomenon puzzling. “It’s not for me,” he says. “It's not content I would consume. But judging by viewer counts, it’s content that lots of people are engaging in, no question.”

Still, he says, he does not not find them silly. “It speaks to the creativity and the world we live in. I am in awe something like this exists.”

Is there something advisors could learn from these videos’ popularity? Richard says there is. “I think it’s a great idea to create these educational videos on financial planning and financial advising. And doing it using key aspects of ASMR scenarios,” he says. “You could also encourage financial advisors and planners to watch these videos for the purpose of channeling that kind of relaxation to their clients.”

When Financial Planning asked the CFP Board about financial planning and ASMR, officials offered this statement from Joe Maugeri, the board’s managing director of corporate relations.

“While we appreciate the creativity demonstrated in the videos,” the statement reads, “financial planning has important ramifications for the public and consumers should seek out a CFP professional for their financial planning advice.”

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