Talk to a group of business people over the age of 40, and you won’t get a consensus on politics, investment advice or management practices.
But mention the “M” word, and suddenly everyone will be on the same page: millennials drive them crazy. The millennial generation is now the most important consumer group in the United States, and it’s still nearly impossible to predict what they will do next. People between the ages of twenty and thirty-five continue to frustrate those who try to sell to, serve and do business with them.
What makes these young adults so challenging?
They have a reputation for being narcissistic and entitled. They grew up with a smartphone and would rather communicate via text, apps or social media instead of in-person or even speaking on the phone. They’ve evolved into asynchronous humans, able to multi-task dozens of exchanges at the same time without giving their full attention to any one of them.
How much of this is true and how much is simply the age-old phenomenon of older generations complaining as their younger counterparts encroach on their turf? It’s hard to say, but two things cannot be argued.
- Millennials have changed the rules.
- People struggle with change.
As humans, we prefer a sense of normalcy, and in the banking industry, this preference is even more pronounced. In the spring, we advertise our mortgage lenders. When rates are high, we advertise deposits. When they are low, we advertise lending. We treat banking like it is part of everyone’s life that they can’t live without, but unfortunately millennials don’t feel the same way. To millennials, a bank is just another app on their smartphone (like Venmo, Square Cash, etc.).
Here’s the thing. We’re never going to change millennials. Ever. It’s time to stop playing defense and draw up a gameplay to reach these potential customers using their own rules.
Step one, update your technology. You must be as flexible as a start-up and as reliable as the national giants.
Step two, get your bankers out of your bank. Human interaction is still a powerful tool, and if you’ve got great people, you need to show them off. Millennials will interact with them at the game, over coffee, at their place of work, anywhere but across a desk.
Fortunately, neither of these tasks is impossible. Technology is the great leveler – once it’s been utilized, it is easy to duplicate. And as for personal contact, community banks have excelled at it for years – we just need to change the venue.
Same As It Always Was
Fifty years ago, I can imagine bank leaders saying “we’re never going to reach those hippies!” You could say “the more things change, the more they stay the same,” but it’s actually the opposite – the more things change, the more they continue to change. The only thing that stops changing is us.
Whether we like it or not, millennials are going to be banking’s number one priority for the next twenty years. Make friends with them. You’ll be glad you did.