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Understanding the real millennials

Book Review: Millennialization Of Everything

Millennialization of Everything: How To Win When Millennials Rule The World. By Jeremy K. Balkin. RMB Books, 108 pp. Millennialization of Everything: How To Win When Millennials Rule The World. By Jeremy K. Balkin. RMB Books, 108 pp.

“They grew up watching their parents turn into workaholics, only to be downsized and restructured out of their chosen careers. They believe work is a thing you do to have a life (work doesn't define their life) …. have no expectation of job security, so they tend to see every job as temporary and every company as a stepping stone to something better, or at least to something else. They have been accused of not wanting to pay their dues… will work very hard for a job that they believe in, for something that challenges them … Americans between the ages of 25-34 are actively involved in creating a start-up company, at a rate about three times as high as any other age group ..."

Sound familiar?

The themes noted above are often associated with the millennial generation and are held out as unique generational traits shared by people born between 1980-2000. The desire to understand these traits and how they manifest themselves has created a growing industry of consultants, generational experts offering advice and guidance on how to manage, market to, or otherwise successfully engage with millennials.

One wrinkle, though. I’ve pulled a trick on you.

The quotes at the beginning of this review are not from Jeremy Balkin’s Millennialization Of Everything: How To Win When Millennials Rule The World. They come from an article by Matt Starcevich entitled “Coaching Generation X,” written in the mid-1990s.

Look beyond the hype

I call attention to the similarities between how Gen X and Gen Y (millennials) have been portrayed—not to discount the valuable information contained in Balkin’s bookbut rather to urge the reader to proceed with caution.

Take the time to truly understand the differences between generations. Don’t fall for the hype that inevitably follows the rise of any generational cohort.

The question asked by Balkin, and which you as a banker should be asking, is “How will millennials influence consumption patterns and payment systems that go on to impact the future of banking and investing, insurance, credit cards, and how business functions?”

Balkin, head of innovation for HSBC USA and a millennial himself, sets out to answer that in this brief yet insightful new book. Early on he recounts an experience where he felt compelled to speak in a meeting where he was the only millennial. He spoke out because of the assumptions he heard being made about the generation, which was “being described as a virus rather than a group of human beings.”

Why this generation matters so much

So, why should you care about millennials?

The sheer size—and the present and future economic impact—of the millennial generation should be reason enough. In 2015, millennials became the largest generational cohort in the U.S. at 75.4 million, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Millennials also comprise 13% of the wealth & affluent consumer segment (by comparison, Gen X is 17%) as defined by Phoenix Marketing International.

And spending by millennials will reach $1.4 trillion in 2020, according to an Accenture study.

Beyond the size of the cohort, just consider these other statistics presented by Balkin:

• By 2025 millennials will comprise 75% of the global workforce and represent 40% of eligible voters in the U.S.

• 70% of millennials trust peers for advice on making purchasing decisions.

• 84% don’t trust traditional advertising.

• 87% say their phone is with them all the time.

This is my generation, baby

Are millennials different? Are there unique traits inherent in this generation that will have a profound impact on society and as a consequence, also on banking?

The simple answer is yes. And the complex answer is still yes— although maybe not to the extent you’ve been led to believe.

Let’s start with millennials as a group. Do they all share the same traits? Are there clearly identified, universally shared traits inherent in every millennial?

The simple answer or the complex answer? While the uniqueness of every generation has been oversold, notable differences between cohorts do exist. These differences derive from shared generation-defining experiences, which leave indelible impressions.

For millennials there are three such experiences, these are:

Digital proficiency: As Balkin writes, “Millennials are the first generation in history to be raised in a digital, technology and media-saturated world.” This impacts buying habits and establishes expectations for access and convenience for all industries.

Great Recession: Witnessing its impact on their parents has seemingly created an aversion to credit risk and established a trust deficit, especially with financial institutions.

9/11: 9/11 and subsequent attacks has contributed to the sense of mistrust in institutions

One label does not fit all

As even Balkin concedes, though, not every millennial is the same. He offers that millennials fall into three separate segments. These are:

Younger Millennials (18-22): Full digital natives who are too young to even remember 9/11 or the financial crisis. Heavily dependent upon parents for advice and support.

Middle Millennials (23-29): Balkin notes that this sub-segment felt the bull brunt of the Great Recession. They are most likely to suffer from high student debt.

Older Millennials (30+): Not as fully digital native as Younger and Middle Millennials. More likely to be married and employed.

This distinction is important. Millennials are not a monolithic group and you shouldn’t strive for a single millennial strategy.

In a banking context, consider credit cards. It is true that millennials as a cohort are less likely to have a credit card. Digging deeper, though, makes you question if this is a generational trait, or simply the result of many millennials being young. The rate of credit card use increases as millennials age, according to a study by FICO that showed usage rates after age 25 consistent—or greater than—prior generations.

Sorting out the real

In marketing to and in serving millennials, bankers need to separate the signal from the noise.

Millennials may seem unique, but they are not completely different from the preceding generations. This is reflected in a recent tweet from best-selling business author Daniel Pink:

“Every Generation thinks other generations are only in it for the $. Reality: Everyone wants meaningful work”

Where millennials are different lies in the influence of being digital natives; the defining experiences of the Great Recession; and the ripples of 9/11.

For example, as Balkin shares, millennials prefer:

Experiences Versus Things: Millennial consumption patterns seem to show a preference for experiential consumption. This would seem to place a premium on service and client experience.

Banking Digitally: 49% of Millennials preferred to interact with their bank through their mobile device and 92% make a banking choice based on the digital services offered.

Authenticity: The trust deficit held by millennials with many institutions, but especially financial services, requires authentic communication. This is demonstrated in their preference to act upon advice from family and friends.

Balkin notes this in his “ABCD Communication” model, where A is for Authenticity, B for Brevity, C for Content, and D for Digital.

Won’t get fooled again

I encourage every banker to read Balkin’s book. I also encourage you to not blindly follow its precepts. In reading, you should approach with a questioning mind.

To succeed, bankers can’t simply assume all millennials are the same. Keeping perspective is important: Many of the things millennials value and how they behave are similar to Gen X and Baby Boomers. In developing your bank’s millennial strategy, you need to both understand the differences and the similarities.

Balkin’s book will help. It is brief, easy to read, and contains many interesting stats and a helpful summary/cheat sheet on the millennial generation.

I have several minor complaints with this book. It contained several contradictions. I also felt that the cultural influence of millennials is overstated. And one chart (on page 20) left me wondering what Balkin was trying to convey with it.

Bankers have to pay attention to Millennials and, regardless of these minor complaints, the Millennialization of Everything: How To Win When Millennials Rule The World should be a must read.

Brian Higgins

Brian Higgins is first vice-president–digital, payments & innovation for First Financial Bank, a $8.7 billion-assets community bank headquartered in Cincinnati serving Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky. He is a frequent contributor to Since joining First Financial Bank in September 2012 Higgins has leveraged 20 years of financial services experience to bring a fresh perspective on the challenges faced by community banks. Previously Higgins worked for Vantiv Payment Solutions and Fidelity Investments, serving in a variety of roles in business leadership (Operations, Product, and Marketing) and strategic planning. Contact him at [email protected]
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