This story is part of Fast Company’s Most Creative People in Business 2022. Explore the full list of innovators who broke through this year—and had an impact on the world around us.
Kyla Scanlon has been glued to her desk for the last hour, barely noticing the late-afternoon downpour and deepening chill out her open window. TikTok’s algorithm rewards her for posting at 7 p.m. eastern time, which is why she’s toggling between her video-editing software, her notes, and a dozen open browser tabs in order to create today’s post, which will join more than 400 others in her growing oeuvre. Energy markets, hedge fund drama, meme stocks—in the year and a half she’s been a creator, she has covered it all.
Today, it took her all of five minutes to settle on a central idea—Who’s responsible for inflation?—and tap out a script oriented around President Biden’s meeting four hours earlier with Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell. Because Scanlon’s videos are designed to educate, she pays careful attention to their structure—a task made all the more challenging by the shortened attention spans that TikTok has normalized. “On TikTok, there’s so much misinformation about markets, and I used to get really frustrated by that because money is so important,” she says. “People don’t understand that we’re all economic entities, and that lack of understanding leads to the gap in how people perceive themselves and the world around them.”
Scanlon, like many of her Robinhood generation peers, started trading stocks as a teenager. But instead of taking her cues from Reddit forums like WallStreetBets, she went to Western Kentucky University (on a full scholarship) to study finance, economics, and data analytics, and then joined a West Coast investment manager after graduating. She envisioned a future as an economics professor. Then the pandemic intervened. Out of boredom, she started posting TikTok videos in 2021 and soon found her niche: A rapid-fire daily synthesis of market trends and economic news, delivered with the authority of a central banker and the absurdist humor of a Gen Z native, all in less than 60 seconds. There is no one doing anything like it.
Today, Scanlon has more than 134,000 TikTok followers. On a social app best known for dances and memes, she’s been able to attract more than 443,000 views for a post breaking down what she dubs the “flashing red bell of the economy” (otherwise known as the yield curve). She has a similar audience on Twitter and syndicates a version of her content across YouTube, Instagram, and Substack, as well. For additional income, she creates content for finance brands like Bankless and FTX. Meanwhile, she’s talking to venture investors about launching a financial education platform of her own, tentatively named Bread.
By the time Scanlon finishes editing today’s post, with her laptop perched on a cardboard box, her furnished apartment is nearly dark. She has removed pauses, overlaid headlines, and incorporated freely associated images (the album art for Destiny’s Child’s Independent Women serves as backdrop for a point about Fed independence). Final length: 42 seconds. She uploads the video.
It doesn’t take long before the comments start to come in. “Believing anything the federal reserve says is literally the same thing as believing in Santa Claus,” says one. Angry, bitter, conspiratorial: Many of Scanlon’s peers believe that their generation has been abandoned by financial institutions, like the Federal Reserve, and the wealth engines that they control. They aren’t shy about their feelings.
Scanlon takes a breath before she replies to them. “The [finance] industry is so gate-kept, for no reason,” she says. “We do such a disservice to people. We just haven’t given them the tools.”