The more you know about different generations - and yourself - the better you can work alongside them and serve them as clients.

That's the premise behind a new program designed to help financial advisors understand the characteristics of various age groups - including their own.

"The program is about what makes your clients and co-workers tick, as well as knowing how your own biases affect that relationship," says Lori Dorsey, senior vice president and director of marketing for Ivy Funds, which is launching GenLink after collaborating with BridgeWorks, a national research firm specializing in generational issues.

"If you're a baby boomer and you see a millennial walking down the street with headphones on, do you assume they're in a virtual business meeting, or listening to music?" Dorsey asks. "'That's an example of how the program can help advisors break down stereotypes."

NAVIGATING 'CLASH POINTS'

Using an interactive online course, approved for continuing education credit, along with videos, research reports and infographics, the program examines generational characteristics and communication preferences and illuminates how traditionalists (born before 1946); boomers (1946-1964), generation X (1965-1979) and millennials (1980-1995) interact and influence one another.

For example, the online course identifies “clash points where generations collide," then recommends strategies advisors can use to navigate them successfully.

Traditionalist traits, according to the program, include loyalty, fiscal conservatism, respect for authority and faith in institutions.

A clash point may come when an advisor, in an effort to be helpful, spends time talking about the financial needs of the client’s children after the client has passed away. The client, however, sees that as a lack of personal attention.

Recommendations: Traditionalists want one-to-one relationships with the people who handle their affairs and with whom they are placing their trust. Personal details such as remembering life events, names of family members and the details of visits go a long way with these clients.

Before they come in for a meeting, look over your files and take note of what is going on in their lives. Remember their children’s names and any milestones that may have taken place since the last visit. That type of personal attention can be a great way to keep them loyal.

Baby Boomers are described as competitive, optimistic, idealistic and sandwiched between their traditionalist parents and millennial children.

A clash point may come when an advisor focuses on all the things that can go wrong in the client's future.

Recommendations: Because boomers grew up in a strong post-war economy amidst sweeping social changes that gave them a sense that anything was possible, they are an incredibly optimistic generation who are best engaged when speaking about the future in terms of positive possibility. 

If you want to engage them, speak their language: Instead of talking soberly about the worst case scenario, advise them about what needs to be done to enjoy a positive benefit down the road. 

Generation X attributes include resourcefulness, self-reliance, skepticism and a strong sense of independence.

A clash point may come when an advisor focuses on how they may be able to retire early, and wealthy.

Recommendations: Members of Generation X grew up seeing major American institutions and corporations exposed for corruption. They tend to rely on themselves and can be fiercely independent. Knowing storms will come, they are most interested in finding out who can offer them the best umbrella.

Many members of this generation aren’t looking to get rich, they’re simply looking not to be poor. They want to know how you can help them create a secure financial future. Your ability to deal with them in a realistic, transparent and trustworthy way will make or break your opportunities with this generation.

Millennials are seen as diverse, cyber-literate, realistic and collaborative.

A clash point may come when an advisor talks to them about retirement and the savings it will require.

Recommendations: Many millennials grew up without personal finance training and with boomer parents who didn’t want them worried about money.

As a result, financial planning may be a weakness, and for those who are making an effort to become educated, retirement wouldn’t be their first and most immediate goal. 

Bombarding this generation of client with financial jargon or conversations about retirement planning can be an overwhelming turnoff. But many are also interested in improving their understanding of investing.Start by respectfully establishing a basic understanding of finance and then help them achieve goals that correspond to their current life stage. 

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