Cam Marston, an expert in generational differences and how those factors affect the financial services landscape, said in a recent Fidelity Inside Track conference speech that the coming demographic waves and aftershocks will change the financial industry.
For decades, the industry has focused on the Matures and the Baby Boomers. Now that those two demographic groups are moving into and past retirement, it's important for money management executives to understand how to recruit and sell to Generations X and Y.
The Matures and the Boomers approached investment and financial services through the traditional and customary advisor/client relationships that have defined our 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. Whether you're on the people or the product side-be it mutual funds, ETS alternatives, etc.-you need to be aware of the communication styles of your target audience.
"Everyone sees the world through his or her own generational filter," said Marston, who heads up Generational Insights (GenerationalInsights.com), a specialty consulting firm based in Mobile, Ala., that studies the impact of generational characteristics and differences on the workplace and the marketplace. "One of the main factors that distinguishes investors-and may be separating you from connecting well with them-is generation or age group. Age and life stage also dictate many needs and preferences."
For example, older and younger generations have fundamentally different views of financial markets. Older generations, the Matures and Boomers, 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 said, 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 said. "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:
The 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 have always had a sense of their generation's importance and uniqueness. 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 said to appeal to their desire to be a part of a team and show that your product or service has been proven over time.
Generation X - Born between 1965 and 1979, the smaller Generation 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 wellbeing. 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 said. "Sell the steak; they'll see right through the sizzle."
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.
If you want 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 said.
The Fidelity Millionaire Outlook, now in its sixth year, takes a close look at Gen X/Y millionaires. The study reveals that these two generations are aggressive in their investing strategies and eager to do more with their money. Relative to the older generations, they are more active and adventurous in their investments. Gen X/Y millionaires acknowledge that inheritances have helped propel them forward, and while they are likely to be generous with their time and money, they are also more likely to live a lifestyle stereotypical of a millionaire, thus overspending can be a problem. They claimed to be more knowledgeable about investing and want to work with a partner, not a dictator. While many of them turn to family and friends for investment advice, they also turn to financial advisors for validation-but they tend to want less frequent personal communication and more technology-enabled communication.
Marie Swift is chief executive of Impact Communications, a PR and marketing communications firm with financial service firm clients nationwide.