Connecting with the next generation of clients can be difficult for advisors who have spent the bulk of their career dealing with one type of customer.

The challenge is that many advisors have been successful with their approach, and may be inclined to think why change the formula? But what worked for baby boomer clients isn’t going to work for their kids — that ever fickle generation known as the millennial.

So looking ahead to that day that many young investors will fire their parents’ financial advisors (which various studies have suggested), how does an advisor scoop up those millennial clients?

That much-debated topic is one that Cam Marston of Generational Insights — a research firm studying different generations and the life stages that impact them — addressed during his session at the Pershing Advisor Solutions RIA Symposium in New York.

The first step, Marston says, is to identify the differences between the generations and understand how the wants and needs of boomers are completely different from their kids. And this should dictate differences in the way advisors try to bring these clients into the firm.

For one difference, people are hitting key life stages at different ages, Marston said. People often assume that everyone is going to behave the same in a generational profile, he notes. But in truth it is the life stages that shape them.

For instance, boomers grew up in a do-it-yourself atmosphere. By 30, they were on their own and possibly already starting their own families. A 30-year-old millennial may be better educated, but often living with their parents and putting off starting a family for reasons that include job prospects and student loan debt.

“At the [current] life stage of the Gen-Xers, many of them are becoming empty nesters,” he says. “I’m finding my friends, people my age are becoming empty nesters. They had kids early, and they’re learning that life stage of empty nesting, it’s changing them.”

FROM EATING BEER TO FEEDING BABIES IN 10 YEARS
One key reason young people are firing their parent’s advisors, Marston says, is because their message isn’t getting across to the next generation.

“Consider whether your online first impression makes you look fun, makes you look interesting, makes you look like you’re good at what you do, makes you look like you take your job seriously, but you don’t take yourself too seriously,” Marston told the advisors in the audience.

“[Does it] make you look like someone I’d like to meet?”

Marston gave the example of two millennials — one 25 years old and the other 35 years old — to illustrate his points. The former he described as “bulletproof, and beer is food” while the other is waking up at 2 a.m. to feed the baby.

“Those life stages are significant,” Marston says, and each life stage requires a different approach and a different way of speaking to them.

To be sure, while there are differences between the generations, there are also come common threads within them. Baby boomers want to know where the advisor came from; they want to know their background and what they have done. They are also drawn to someone with a more professional look, Marston says.

Millennials have a more individualized focus; they want to know where they are going and how the advisor is going to get them there. They want to feel comfortable with the advisor on a more casual level and be engaged in a fun way. Not a silly way, Marston stressed, but in a way that will make them step back and look at the advisor in a unique way.

One way to appeal to both of these clients at the same time is through your online presence. Start off with a tailored professional look, have a bio that talks about your background and your experience. And for those tech-savvy millennials, have a rollover option they can click on to learn about the “real you.”

This is a technique that Marston uses on his own site. The rollover option shows a more casual Marston seen hanging out in everyday cloths while looking through some photos. And the bio includes information about his Spotify playlist.

Amanda Schiavo

Amanda Schiavo is an associate editor for Financial Planning. Follow her on Twitter at @SchiavoAmanda.