CHICAGO - Each generation has distinct characteristics that inform the way its members like to communicate and connect with other people. Naturally, most people approach others the way they’d like to be treated, but that doesn’t cut it for advisors working with clients from a different generation, said Cam Marston, a generational characteristics expert and consultant with his firm, Generational Insight.

At the Schwab Impact 2012 conference on Thursday, Marston’s session focused on the differences between the Baby Boomers, the Gen Xers and the Millenials and what those differing characteristics mean for advisors. “The disconnect is a gap they can’t cross,” he said.

But fear not. To help advisors get a better handle on how best to work with people of each generation, Marston laid out the major generational trait differences and how advisors should communicate accordingly.

The following traits Marston highlighted apply to clients and staff and are important in both an advisor’s service marketing and their employee base.


Characteristics: Boomers define their work ethic in hours, they’re competitive, and their success is largely visible. They are defined by their work.

Connecting: Emphasize saving time and how you can make it easy. “But this doesn’t necessarily mean stressing how terrific your cutting edge technology is,” Marston said. Some Boomers are excited about technology, and some are not, don’t assume they are. Emphasize your role on their team.

Communicating: Face-to-face is the number one way to communicate with Boomers. Relax and speak in fluid sentences. The next best way is via phone and then email. When emailing, use full sentences, few abbreviations, include an opening and closing. Via web and texting will depend on the person. Often it’s okay for kids to text their Boomer parents, but not vendors.

Gen Xers

Characteristics: “They are the most cynical, pessimistic, unhappy and unfriendly generation we’ve ever seen,” Marston said. Entering their prime earning years, they’re the biggest online shoppers and bankers and they are a tough sell because they don’t want to believe you.

Selling to Gen X:  List all available products, services and options. Show them everything.  Emphasize short term solutions and develop short term goals that you can easily hit to build confidence in them. Show them back up plans and in doing so show that you recognize the skeptic in them. They’ll use technology to double check everything you tell them. “They’re the most loyal generation, but they have a very thick skin,” Marston said. “From their point of view, they have reason to distrust you.”

Communicating: Email them. They’re likely let your calls go to voicemail, see how important it is and decide how quickly they need to get back to you. Texting is okay if it’s a request or information. They won’t want to make decisions face-to-face. Let them think and do research.


Characteristics: They are finally entering adulthood. It’s not their fault, growing up in a time of affluence delays the transition to adulthood, Marston said. Parents are and will remain a big influence on them. They have been very well cared for by parents.

Connecting: Focus on how the Millenial client or employee is different. Instead of talking about you and your story, talk about them and their future. Recognize their individuality and uniqueness.

Communication: Texting is okay, even preferred for this group. You must be on social technology platforms and printed materials should be simple, sleek and modern. “Be authentic, genuine and helpful, but don’t try to fake cool,” Marston said. Oh yeah, and get used to the fact that their Boomer parents might come along for their first meeting with you.