4 Keys from the Financial Communications Society's Millennial Luncheon

Last Wednesday the Financial Communications Society (FCS) held a Boston luncheon on marketing financial services to Millennials. The featured panelists were Chief Strategy Officer at Hill Holiday Lesley Bielby, Marketing Director at Society of Grownups Rhett Brackeen, Director of Behavioral Finance and Investing at Betterment Daniel Egan and Senior Vice President of Practice Management and Consulting at Fidelity Investments Ross Ozer. Assistant Managing Editor at Time Matt Vella moderated the conversation, and President at Corporate Insight Michael Ellison provided attendees with a topic intro and overview.

The dialogue was quite dynamic, covering the behavioral attributes and stereotypes of Millennials, the best methods and channels for successful communication, and what the largest working generation expects from financial services firms on the whole as they begin to invest their wealth. The professionally diverse panel provided attendees with some excellent, thought-provoking industry and demographic insights, and four noteworthy ones from the two-hour event are as follows:

  • Narcissism is both a general factor of youth and a fundamental trait of the generation, and that directly correlates to how Millennials engage their global environment

Though Millennials receive, and sometimes deserve, a lot of criticism for being the “me generation,” this characteristic is understandable if not defensible, as the cohort has been emotionally and intellectually molded by powerful external factors, coming of age during a rise in terrorism and the arrival of the Great Recession, and is now determined to redefine certain industries and processes through entrepreneurism and advocacy. Lesley Bielby, a mom and manager of Millennials, believes they are also a beautiful and brave generation. “They are absolutely 100 percent spearheading all types of fluidity, all types of equality,” said Bielby. “This is a generation that has kind of stood up and said, ‘We’re clearing the you know what left over from previous generations. Thanks guys. But we’re doing it with grace and don’t just believe in having an opinion on something. We actually take action.’”

Additionally and very much relatedly, Millennials are skeptical of the traditional financial planning experience since “they saw their parents for the most part fail with their financial plan, and they’re faced with this future of planning for themselves, but also planning for their parents, and planning to take care of their parents and grandparents as well. So I think you have a very large mistrust that just exists for traditional financial services companies,” said Rhett Brackeen.

  • Retirement can be an abstraction, but budgeting is very real; though trust must exist

Exampling how a traditional financial services firm can tailor the financial planning approach, Ross Ozer spoke on the above-mentioned connectivity challenge. “Those advisors that have really taken on Gen X and Gen Y have really been tailoring their offerings and their business model to address their needs,” he shared. “One of the advisors that we work with has come up with an engagement strategy that entails working with prospects, and it’s all about budgeting. So it’s trying to get their arms around it—what’s their need, what their issue—and then the retirement conversations come a bit later.”

However, as other panelists emphasized, it is critical for advisors, especially older ones, to remain authentic and deliver important information with the tone and seriousness it deserves. Millennials can tell when someone is trying to talk “their language” for the sake of doing so and will take offense and immediately dismiss the messenger and message.

  • Segmenting and simplifying the conversation (without saying you are) is the best way to present Millennials with important information

“Because they’ve filled their phones and heads with a shed load of information, what we’re learning is this is also the most stressed out generation,” said Beilby. “And the implications of that, especially in the space of financial services, is not to throw too much information at them, not to assume that they want to know everything across the entire customer journey about mortgages and loans and retirement and how to get out of that credit card debt. It is really important, particularly in my area, which is advertising, that we curate those experiences and understand very deeply what matters to them.”

Simplifying and personalizing the experience also stems from the fact that Millennials, because of their perceived invincibility and expertise in almost anything technological, are afraid to actually ask for help in an area with which they are unfamiliar. This allows advisors to increase the comfort level of millennial prospects, facilitating the digestion of complex information. However, simplification doesn’t necessarily imply short-form content only, as panelists see engaging, highly effective long-form pieces as valuable if properly positioned. “Know the individual. Know what drives them. Know what things in life matter to them most. And then tailor those brand experiences and conversations to that individual and not just to one generation,” recommended Beilby.

  • Financial services firms are competing against Netflix

Rhett Brackeen illustrated a tactic that Society of Grownups employs to provide value and build trust, while facilitating the financial education process. “We ask people to choose the five most important things to them based upon [a created] deck of cards, and then they have to come down to three. And when they begin to break those things down, having to write examples of how they supported those values or purchases that supported or didn’t support those values and talk about it, that adds value and breaks open the conversation in their mind.”

Furthering this process of financial education is nothing but difficult, according to Brackeen, as most people, regardless of age, don’t like to talk about their personal finances, let alone achieve a high level of knowledge about them. “When you think about the things you’re actually competing against in terms of financial education or even financial advising, you’re competing against someone maybe not having a Netflix subscription. You’re competing against someone not going out for a nice dinner. You’re competing against all the various parts of one’s day. But I think people are willing to make the investment in time, as long as the experience provides some sort of value too.”

The FCS holds events across the country all year and plans to return to Boston in 2017. These gatherings are superb opportunities to network, learn and develop both organizationally and professionally; and the culinary offerings aren’t half bad either. So, see you at the next one!
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