Bridging the Generation Gap

Kids today—they don’t know much, but they think they know everything.

That’s the familiar yet only appropriate reaction to the latest deep dive into millennial behavior as it pertains to banking. This one comes from “The Millennial | Financial Behaviors & Needs,” a comprehensive new study commissioned by TD Bank and conducted by Angus Reid Public Opinion. The study samples 2,031 millennials aged 18-34, all of whom have some form of financial relationships.

In what might not be a big surprise, a significant majority of the respondents, 69%, have never taken part in any financial courses, seminars or workshops. But apparently that isn’t a big problem—fully 59% of those surveyed say they’re extremely, very or somewhat knowledgeable about day-to-day banking. And here’s a nugget that will confirm some more stereotypes about this generation.  When they actually do go search for information, nearly half cite parental influence for their opinions in this area, and 40% turn to family for specific advice. Of course, a strong 62% also go online to find answers.

To be sure, none of the findings in the TD Bank is particularly surprising. They do more banking online than in-branch; nearly half favor mobile access, and the numbers keep rising; and so on. Each generation carries with it a level of stereotypes, and this one is no exception. And of course, as with most stereotypes, there is more complexity than is first apparent, and that emerges with more detailed research.

It’s easy to shrug off these studies, but to do that would be a mistake. Negative perceptions aside, millennials do bring real change. And for our industry to survive, let alone thrive, we must do things very differently.

Millennials are the reason why a retail giant like Costco is facing some very real problems. The company is still frequently celebrated in customer service surveys and documentaries alike, but concerns are rising that the membership and bulk-goods business models don’t appeal to younger consumers. That may be one reason why the stock is suffering.

Costco is facing issues in generating and retaining millenial-aged members.

On a related note (since the Costco model is so dependent on customers having cars), the auto industry—which is still in recovery mode after a rough few years and government bailouts for some—is getting worried that those pesky millennials don’t seem to want cars as much as their predecessors did? Is it because, in this economic climate, they just can’t afford to buy what they want? The car makers certainly hope so, but the fact that an alarming number of teenagers haven’t even bothered get a driving license should be cause for concern. Is it because the wealth of social media tools and channels make it less necessary to meet face to face? Is it because in the age of Big Data, these tech-savvy and privileged consumers won’t respond to marketing unless it’s much more customized?

And as even a scan of the headlines will make clear, millennials are the reason why President Obama appeared on a far-outside-the-mainstream outlet like “Between Two Ferns” to pitch his signature legislation, the healthcare law. Critics have savaged the appearance as being beneath the office of the President, but the undeniable truth is that the stunt generated enormous attention and drove unprecedented traffic to the primary healthcare site.

In a sense, we’re not that different from giant retailers, carmakers and the Presidency. We need to get our message out there in order for our customers to come to us. We don’t have to change our identity or our philosophy in the process, just certain strategies and a lot of tactics. But the bottom line is that in appealing to millennials, if we’re not doing things differently, we’re probably doing things wrong.