16-year-old Charli D’Amelio may be the biggest social media influencer in the world. With 93 million TikTok followers, she is the most popular creator on the app, with an additional 31 million Instagram followers and 4.4 million more on Twitter.
Beloved by her audience for being an “unproblematic queen,” Gen Z-speak for a down-to-earth role model for young girls, she’s parlayed her online stardom into a Super Bowl commercial for Sabra hummus, deals with major brands Dunkin’ Donuts, Prada and American Eagle, and a reported net worth of $4 million. She is also an advocate for mental health, anti-bullying and social justice issues.
“Charli D’Amelio is by far the most famous TikTokker on the planet,” says Taylor Lorenz, Internet culture reporter at the New York Times. “Her impact on the platform has been huge.”
And now, she is taking her massive influence to the personal finance world.
D’Amelio just launched a partnership with personal finance app Step Mobile, which calls itself “a banking app for teens to help manage and send money.” We reached out to Charli and her team, but she wasn’t available to comment regarding the partnership.
Step, which says it wants to be the first spending card and first bank account a teen has, describes itself as “a mobile banking experience made up of an app, a Step account, and a physical Step Card.” It offers real-time budgeting tools, as well as transaction and balance tracking. It also claims to help users build credit history and teach them about financial responsibility and literacy at a young age.
Actor Will Smith and rapper Nas are two notable investors in Step, which has raised $26 million in financing, according to the company. Step is available for download for both Android and iOS. It had over 100,000 users as of its launch on September 30, a Step spokesperson said.
Step offers access to 35,000 ATMs around the country with no fees, and the ability to send money instantly, making it a potential competitor to apps like Venmo and Zelle.
The cards are backed by Visa. Step makes money from “interchange” fees; it gets a percentage of service fees that card networks collect when users pay with a card, and says it has no plans to ever charge its users any fees.
Several personal finance advisors we asked about the app were unfamiliar with it, since it’s still so new. One cautioned that both teens and parents should monitor account activity on Step and use it as a way to teach financial responsibility — otherwise the “benefits of Step Mobile as an educational tool [will be] lost,” says AnnaMarie Mock, CFP, a wealth advisor at Highland Financial Advisors.
“Step Mobile is similar to a debit card because money can be transferred into the Step Mobile card account to replenish funds, but the Step Mobile card builds credit, unlike a traditional debit card,” Mock adds.
To join Step, you have to be 13 or older, and need a sponsor who’s over 18 if you are a minor. Sponsors have their own Step accounts and visibility into the primary account until that account holder turns 18. The parent or sponsor of the teen’s account will have access to balances and real-time activity.
Some members of Gen Z we spoke to — that’s the generation born in 1997 and later, the target of the app — are still on the fence about it.
“I love Charli and I’m generally not bothered by her sponsored content — I love her Dunkin’ drink — but personally, this one is a pass for me,” says Alyssa Cerchiai, a recent graduate of Florida State University who works in marketing. Cerchiai already has a bank account, and she’s wary of the app’s newness: “It just launched,” she notes.
Sofia Albi, a sophomore at SUNY Cortland, says she “wouldn’t download it even though Charli sponsored it.” Like Cerchiai, Albi has also purchased “The Charli,” the Dunkin’ coffee that bears D’Amelio’s name, but she hadn’t heard of Step yet: “Nobody I know has mentioned it.”
We reached out to Step to see how many downloads and sign-ups they’ve had since launch. A spokesperson said the app has consistently been a Top 20 finance app in the App Store, and has seen a “massive increase” in demand.
Some comments on D’Amelio’s Instagram post announcing the partnership have also been lukewarm at best. User @zlpsbored commented with the ultimate Gen Z clapback:
Unlike other TikTok stars who are all about teaching their followers how to manage money,
D’Amelio isn’t known for financial topics. She rose to her stellar fame like a lot of other TikTokkers: by dancing. She initially went viral after posting dance videos shot in her bedroom, leading other teen girls to see themselves in her. When it became really popular to duet on TikTok — essentially, create side-by-side videos with other users within the app — D’Amelio began racking up followers, and ended up becoming a meme.
But now that she’s turning into a bona fide money influencer with the Step deal, her followers — and their guardians, if they are minors — would do well to become familiar with those topics before signing up for any products. For example, Mock recommends, they could get started with podcasts and books that explain the basics. Teens in particular should take a look at what they spend their money on and compile a cash flow sheet to learn about their income and expenses.
“This exercise will demonstrate the importance of living within their means, prioritizing purchases,” Mock says, “and not overspending to the point where they need to rely on high-interest debt.”
Since it is still so new, you may want to wait to sign up if you are thinking of it, although Step doesn’t charge a fee if you decide you want to close your account.
But that doesn’t mean your financial planning goals have to go on hold. In fact, it’s never too early to start learning personal finance principles and smart spending habits—lifelong skills that don’t require an app download.
Step reached out after publication to say the company has raised $26 million in funding, not $30 million as the story previously stated. Step also said that the company does not plan to charge its users any fees in the future. The story has been updated.