I Must Be A Gen Yer

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In the May 28, 2007 issue of Fortune magazine, there’s an article that purports to be a “field guide to Generation Y.” According to the article, the way to spot a Gen Yer is by his or her headphones, clothes (jeans, sneakers, jacket), laptop, designer coffee, BlackBerry, digital camera, and iPod.

I read this article as I unpacked from my trip this week — wearing my jeans, sneakers, and jacket, recharging my BlackBerry and laptop, throwing away the Starbucks napkins I put in my bag in case I spilled coffee all over myself, and listening to my iPod.

So I guess that makes me a Gen Yer, eh?

Hardly. Although I may have the same accoutrements of a Gen Yer, our differences in attitudes towards money and financial services firms is where the real story is at, at least for financial services marketers.

First of all, today’s twenty-somethings are far more involved in managing their financial lives — at this point in their lives — than Boomers were at that age. Boomers “learned” how to become involved in making financial decisions. By “learned”, I mean it wasn’t something we grew up with. Making our own investment decisions was a new behavior we adopted in the past 10 to 15 years. Gen Yers, on the other hand, know no other way. They’ve expected to be involved in making their own financial decisions all along.

Second, Gen Yers are already thinking about the future and their retirement — and they’re not even 30 years old. Forrester Research found that two-thirds of Gen Yers are concerned about having enough money to retire, and that more than one-third have already begun saving for retirement. Boomers were not saving for retirement in their 20s.

Third, Gen Yers are less skeptical and cynical about financial services firms. Boomers have been burned by mergers, economic cycles, and the dot com bust. We’re very mistrustful of financial services firms. Gen Yers aren’t (yet).

Many financial services firms are missing the boat with regard to Gen Yers. By focusing on the 78 million boomers with looming retirement assets and high FICO scores, financial providers are fighting the short-term battle. And missing an opportunity to build strong, long-term relationships with the next wave of consumers. The kind of relationship they don’t have with today’s customers.

p.s. I forgot to mention another difference between Gen Yers and Boomers (at least this one). Gen Yers don’t take extra napkins in case they spill their coffee.

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