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Listening to Gen Y: U.S. Bank drafts another "Dynamic Dozen"

12 young bankers give U.S. Bancorp top management perspective on view—and views—of Millennials
 

Listening to Gen Y: U.S. Bank drafts another "Dynamic Dozen"
This article is an online companion to the May 2011 ABA Banking Journal cover story, “#5, and feeling good: Why Richard Davis’ $308 billion ‘community bank’ just might be coming to a corner near you.” You can read that article online on this website or in our digital magazine.
 
Who is speaking for Generation Y here?

“Our generation is very comfortable with the lack of security and privacy experienced on the web. We are comfortable with Facebook and Twitter, with their standards, which are to have it all out there,” says Jessica Gaulke.

“Millennials expect a top-notch virtual experience. However, I don’t necessarily like that my iPhone and my iPad know where I am 24/7,” says Luke Wippler.

Actually, both of these younger bankers are speaking for their generation.
 
 
Meet the Dynamic Dozen
Wippler, 29, is an alumni of U.S. Bancorp’s first “Dynamic Dozen,” a group started by top management in early 2009 to probe the attitudes, needs, and preferences of Generation Y. Gaulke, 27, is a member of the latest dozen.

Their differing attitudes underscore that while appealing to this generation of customers means understanding them, putting them all into a single box can be misleading. Given that banks of all sizes recognize that they must learn to appeal to these customers, learning about their entire range of attitudes is important.

Even to a member of Generation Y, this can be eye-opening. Gaulke, assistant vice-president and communications manager at U.S. Bancorp Fund Services, LLC, says in meeting with fellow “dozens” through the bank’s program, she has been amazed at the range of attitudes and preferences.

“I thought we would all be the same,” she admits, but she has found a spectrum of attitudes within the generational group. Younger members of the generation can differ in viewpoints from those at the high end, 30 years old, she explains. Lifestyle choices can be very different throughout the group.

Wippler, vice-president and manager, capital forecasting, in the company’s Treasury Department, agrees.

“Our generation is viewed as an aggressive generation,” he explains. “From a business perspective, we’re seen as a group that expects a lot—a lot of freedom and a lot of opportunities. Yet there are many individuals who respect hard work and who want to go out and earn their opportunities.”

Wippler carries an iPhone, Gaulke carries a Blackberry. Both are part of U.S. Bancorp’s high-level effort to serve their demographic group.
 
 
What prompted the group?
U.S. Bancorp CEO Richard Davis felt the company needed a closer look at what Generation Y wanted from a financial services provider. Each of the 12 executives directly reporting to Davis selected a Gen Yer from their section of the company to serve as part of the bank’s inside project group. The coincidental size of the group led to the “Dynamic Dozen” label.

Leading and coordinating the group since its initial founding in 2009 has been Mac McCullough, executive vice-president and chief strategy officer. He explains that with all the changes going on in banking, management considered it critical to engage employees in Generation Y early. Otherwise their viewpoints might not have risen to the influential ranks of the bank’s hierarchy.

“In my experience, the generational differences are very large when it comes to banking, and the group has been greatly beneficial to our decisionmaking,” says McCullough, who, at 54, is a Baby Boomer. The initial dozen was founded and tasked with a minimum of structure, according to McCullough. The latest group, including Gaulke, has been given more structure to help guide its input into bank’s research and development.

Members of the dozen meet face-to-face periodically, gathering more often via conference call. U.S. Bancorp also provides a secure collaboration website where the team members, top management, and facilitators can discuss ongoing team projects.

“It’s a Facebook type of environment,” says McCullough, “and it’s very open ended.”

Overall, the job of the dozen is to help U.S. Bancorp figure out how to appeal to and attract members of Generation Y. This includes both Gen Y as customers and prospects and Gen Y as employees. Assignments have covered both external and internal issues.

Currently, one of the projects includes using the Gen Y team to not only look at how the company approaches their generation, but also how other institutions do so.

“We’ll have them study some of our competitors,” says McCullough. “We didn’t want to pre-suppose how they want to interact with those competitors.” Some, he said, will tend to delve into the competitors’ online presence and approaches. Others, he suspects, will decide to become “mystery shoppers,” physically visiting the competition to gauge the quality of the customer experience from a Gen Y viewpoint.

“We do this with the understanding that these individuals have day jobs,” says McCullough. Team members participate as much as they can while performing their jobs in the various parts of the organization.

Members of the dozen meet and speak with top executives, something they value. “You get to spend a lot of time with each of the members of the management committee and understand the bank’s businesses very well,” says Luke Wippler. “That’s not common to have such exposure so early in our careers.”
 
 
Projects tackled by the Dozen
Online and mobile offerings have been an area of high interest to team members, says alumni Wippler. “Those are top of mind to my generation,” he explains.

This speaks to the overall purpose of the concept, according to McCullough. “We need to be sure we do the right things for this generation,” he says. “It won’t be the same things that worked for us Boomers.”

Pricing of products and services has arisen as a concern, and it is something that the current dozen has begun discussing. “There are tradeoffs between pricing and customer experience,” McCullough explains, and the bank is very interested in finding out how this younger generation feels about those tradeoffs.

Just coming off of an extended discussion on the subject, McCullough was asked what he was hearing.

“For the most part, what I heard was interest in balance,” he reports. “This segment is just starting their careers, so price is important, especially when it comes to major purchases, such as buying a home.”

McCullough explains that the bank isn’t presenting the group with specifics about pricing. Instead, he says, “we’re more after perceptions regarding product pricing. Clearly, pricing is an important aspect of their decisionmaking process.”
 
 
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U.S. Bancorp’s Mac McCullough oversees the company’s “Dynamic Dozen” program: “The generational differences are very large when it comes to banking,” he explains.     “Our generation is very comfortable with the lack of security and privacy experienced on the web,” says Jessica Gaulke, member of U.S. Bancorp’s “Dynamic Dozen.” We are comfortable with Facebook and Twitter, with their standards, which are to have it all out there.”     “From a business perspective, we’re seen as a group that expects a lot—a lot of freedom and a lot of opportunities. Yet there are many Gen Y individuals who respect hard work and who want to go out and earn their opportunities,” says Luke Wippler, a “Dynamic Dozen” alumni.
 
 
Importance of listening
The initial Dynamic Dozen team was cited in the 2010 book The M-Factor: How the Millennial Generation Is Rocking The Workplace, by Lynne Lancaster and David Stillman. (Read an bankingexchange.com banker review of this book) The authors state:

“You might be thinking, ‘Doesn’t every generation want to be listened to and have their ideas considered?’ Of course, but Millennials seem to want it sooner. A Boomer starting out might have been aggravated if no one was listening, but would be much more willing to say, ‘Well, when I’ve been here as long as my boss, I bet they’ll listen to me, too.’ Not so for Millennials. They want to be heard now.”

Both Wippler and Gaulke appreciate the opportunity. “It adds a critical perspective to the operation of the business,” says Wippler.

But McCullough sees the program as a two-way street: “I can’t emphasize enough the cultural change that it’s brought into our organization.”
 
 
Another Dynamic Dozen: In January U.S. Bancorp appointed its second “Dynamic Dozen,” Gen Y bankers who become an internal team advising the bank on how to appeal to their generation. Their mission involves both external, customer issues, and internal, employee issues.
 
http://www.bankingexchange.com/images/stories/51211_briefing_dynamicdozen.jpg
 
 
 
  1. This article is an online companion to the May 2011 ABA Banking Journal cover story, “#5, and feeling good: Why Richard Davis’ $308 billion ‘community bank’ just might be coming to a corner near you.” You can read that article online on this website or in our digital magazine.
 
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Steve Cocheo

Steve Cocheo’s career in business journalism has taken him to all 50 states and nearly every corner of banking in institutions of all sizes. He is executive editor of ABA Banking Journal, digital content manager of ababj.com, and editor of ABA Bank Directors Briefing. He coordinates the popular Pass the Aspirin and First Person features and wrote the booklet series Focus On The Bank Director. He is the only journalist to have sat in on three federal banking exams, was a finalist for the Jesse H. Neal national business journalism awards, and a winner of multiple awards from the American Society of Business Publication Editors.

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