The thing about offering a digital option is that it simply isn’t optional

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If you’ve been following the analysis on the financial industry over the last several years, chances are high that you’ve seen many articles talking about banking and millennials. In one sense, this is admittedly a fraught topic. After all, it’s not as though millennials want the convenience of digital banking and older generations don’t. The truth is that everyone wants what is most convenient. Age has nothing to do with it.

And yet, data from a range of sources shows that those who are under 30 have different preferences for banking compared with those over 60. And these differences must be taken into consideration when appealing to a range of members.

For starters, 58 percent of millennials are interested in their credit union “proactively recommending products or services,” compared to 46 percent of those over 55, according to Accenture. Based on these numbers, we get the sense that younger audiences see service as something that occurs in an app as opposed to something that occurs in a branch. It’s a shift in perspective that credit unions must be more aware of since it means that a focus on the branch is likely to pay fewer dividends with millennials than a focus on mobile banking will.

In this same vein, 92 percent of millennials say they would select a financial institution for its digital services. This mirrors the research showing that most millennials choose the nation’s biggest banks, with 55 percent saying they prefer one of the top three — even though millennials simultaneously admit that they dislike the big bank brands. In other words, millennials want to bank elsewhere, but the digital offerings they get with the big players keep them loyal.

What this means is that, above all, millennials are thinking about the digital experience. This fact puts credit unions in a tricky spot because they simply don’t have the budget to produce an app that can compete with the likes of Chase, Wells Fargo, and Bank of America. How should credit unions proceed?

One option with merit is to focus on doing one or two things really well. For instance, maybe you can’t offer the best overall app, but you can make certain that the process for signing up for an auto loan is perfectly smooth. And that may be sufficient for now — even though you will acknowledge that your app might not be considered the primary financial app for most of your users.

Another option is to find an affordable digital partner that can help you improve your app in unique ways, setting you apart from the crowd. Specifically, you might look for companies that have produced features and apps that have received positive feedback from end users. You might also find ways to combine features via a range of APIs, creating an experience that you can call your own while simultaneously not draining your entire budget.

Whatever you choose, it’s clear that the future of banking lies in the digital experience — particularly the mobile experience. After all, millennials spend 35 hours a week with digital channels. (50 percent more than the average of the other combined demographics.) If you don’t privilege the digital experience above other channels, the chances of you retaining the next generation are slim. The answer starts with shifting to a digital mindset.

Jon Ogden is director of content marketing for MX, a provider of data-driven money-management solutions based in Lehi, Utah.

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Digital banking Digital payments Mobile banking Mobile technology