For decades, the advisory industry has focused on the baby boomer and older generations. Now that those demographic groups are moving into and past retirement, it's important for financial advisors to understand how to recruit and sell to Generations X and Y.

The older generations approached investment and financial services through the traditional and customary advisor-client relationships that have defined the industry for some time. Now, new generations who have different economic and cultural experiences from their parents and grandparents are moving into age ranges that make them the prime markets for investments, retirement planning and other financial services.

According to the latest research from Fidelity, Gen X/Y millionaires are more active, adventurous and aggressive in their investing strategies and eager to do more with their money. Inheritances have propelled them forward, but Gen X/Y millionaires are likely to be generous with their money and tend toward a more extravagant lifestyle, Fidelity’s Millionaire Outlook study finds. Additionally, the study says, this group claims to be knowledgeable about investing and seeking a partner, not a dictator, who they will turn to for financial advice – even if they prefer less frequent personal communication. (Full disclosure: Fidelity is a client of my firm, Impact Communications.)


"Everyone sees the world through his or her own generational filter," Cam Marston, an expert on generational differences and the founder of consulting firm Generational Insights, told advisors at a recent Fidelity Inside Track conference. "One of the main factors that distinguishes investors -- and may be separating you from connecting well with them -- is generation or age group,” he says. “Age and life stage also dictate many needs and preferences."

For example, older and younger generations have fundamentally different views of financial markets. Older generation investors have a basic confidence that the principles of the market will continue to apply -- that the market will eventually reward sound investing in spite of the occasional ups and downs. Younger generations, Marston says, take a look at the recent ups and downs and see a financial marketplace that is risky and unstable.

"Gen X and the millennials are concerned things are different now," Marston says. "They believe the market of their parents and grandparents is gone. They lack that sense of continuity and confidence that guided so many generations back to the market after downturns."


Today, there are three very distinct generations in the market for financial products and services. Marston highlights some of the major differences:

1. Baby Boomers: Born between 1946 and 1964, boomers get their name from the remarkable "boom" in the birthrate following World War II. This exceptionally large generation has reshaped ideas about youth, education, work and aging. They maintain a lifelong connection to their youth in the 1960s, which was a time of momentous cultural and political change. According to Marston, boomers are known for their optimism, self-confidence and ambition. Until the emergence of the millennials (also known as Gen Y), they were considered the most important demographic in commerce, marketing, sales and investing.

If you want to connect with boomers, Marston says, appeal to their desire to be a part of a team and show that your product or service has been proven over time.

2. Generation X: Born between 1965 and 1979, the smaller Gen X grew up with less economic and family security than the boomers. Oftentimes, they grew up in households with divorced or two working parents. Despite being labeled "skeptical," "cynical" and "slackers" in their youth, Gen Xers have stepped up and generally take responsibility for their own well-being. The advent of personal computers and the Internet made them the first tech-savvy generation.

"If you want to connect with Gen X, appeal to their sense of individuality -- and don't be too promotional, sales-y or marketing-y," Marston says. "Sell the steak; they'll see right through the sizzle."

3. Millennials: Born between 1980 and 2000, millennials were originally known as the "Echo Boom" because they came mainly from the baby boomer generation having children of their own. With the exception of the Great Recession, they lived most of their youth in a time of broader economic and technological expansion. While they tend to have a sense of optimism and entitlement, they also have a sense of social and environmental responsibility, are attuned to peers and trendsetters, and are avid users of technology and social media.

To connect with millennials recognize their strong social desires and the strong influence their parents may have. "Solutions must (a) be unique to them and (b) have an immediate application to them. They want what their friends have but with a unique twist," Marston says.


Preparing now can position your financial advisory firm for a tidal wave of success. Just take a look at oXYGen Financial, a thriving financial advisory firm based in Atlanta. Co-founders Kile Lewis and Ted Jenkin have created a client experience and generational focus that’s hard to rival. From their funny, irreverent videos and blog posts to their casual, campy social media and website content, they’re intent on saying to Next Gen clients: “Hey, look at us, we’re different. We get where you’re coming from and we’re not your parent’s and grandparent’s stodgy old financial firm.”

“oXYGen Financial has really developed the concept of a modern day local family financial planning and advice office. Clients know before even walking in the door or sending an initial email inquiry that they’re going to fit in and likely become a client,” Lewis told me at the FPA Experience conference in October in Orlando, Fla.

“It’s funny though,” he continues, “while we originally focused entirely on courting the Gen X/Y markets, we started hearing from baby boomers that they, too, liked our unique message and mix of services. So we’ve been conscious of not excluding boomers who see themselves as fitting into that younger mindset. As a result, our business is booming,” Lewis says.

The writing on the wall is clear: Failing to understand the generational differences may create a shock wave for your firm. And you’ll be competing with smart, young firms like oXYGen Financial for tomorrow’s business.

Marie Swift (@marieswift on Twitter) and her team at Impact Communications have been working exclusively with independent financial advisors and allied institutions for twenty years. While the tools have changed, the communication essentials never do. Learn more at

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