The world is flat. The sun revolves around the earth. Millennial business owners are cocksure serial entrepreneurs who start companies only to sell them and move on.
The last of these ideas can be added to the others as a debunked myth, according to a new study of small-business owners released Wednesday.
In fact, a majority of millennials who run their own businesses plan on remaining at the helm for years, according to the study conducted by Wells Fargo. They are also eager for financial guidance and, while wary of taking on debt, they recognize the value of credit in helping them grow their companies.
According to the study, fully 80% of millennials who own businesses intend to grow them over many years and may one day even pass them down to their children (though most of those surveyed don't yet have any).
"Millennial small-business owners are in it for the long term," said Alec Hughes, the millennial segment manager at Wells Fargo. "We like to say they are in a 'committed relationship' with their small business."
The survey of more than 1,000 business owners — divided evenly between millennials and older people — reveals challenges as well as opportunities for banks looking to serve younger entrepreneurs. For the purposes of the study, a small business was defined as having up to $5 million in annual revenue.
One opportunity lies in millennials' lack of confidence when it comes to managing money. Nearly half of millennials in the survey described themselves as only "somewhat" knowledgeable about handling their business finances. Slightly more than half, 52%, rated themselves as successful in managing their finances.
To serve these customers, Wells two years ago launched a website featuring informational videos and other resources on how to start, run and grow a business. Millennials' comfort with self-directed learning makes them the perfect target audience, said Hughes.
A business planning center, added to the platform last year, offers two free tools — one that helps entrepreneurs "create a soup-to-nuts business plan," said Doug Case, Wells Fargo's small-business segment manager, and another that lets you compare your business to competitors and figure out how to target customers more effectively.
Only about a third of millennial business owners say they have a business plan. "We think that the plan itself is a critical part of business ownership," Case said.
But even with all these digital resources, the financial aspect of growing a business is often a stumbling block for millennials.
Many young people, their careers stunted by the Great Recession and carrying a heavy student loan burden, are cautious about going into debt for their business. Indeed, 24% have borrowed money for their business from friends or family, according to the new study — presumably rather than relying on their credit cards or borrowing from a financial institution. Only 17% of older small-business owners said they have done the same.
And yet caution doesn't preclude action. While 75% of millennial respondents said they were "extremely wary" of taking on business debt, compared to 78% of older entrepreneurs, 63% of millennials also accept that some amount of business debt is necessary for growth, a statement with which only 51% of older small-business owners agreed.
The danger for banks is that millennials might turn to alternative lenders to provide the credit they need. Indeed, slightly more than half of millennials surveyed said that "digital and peer-to-peer payment tools" were reducing their reliance on traditional financial institutions. And 59% believed their business was too small to qualify for a business loan or line of credit at a bank.
Small wonder, then, that a study by Aite Group earlier this year found that 26% of businesses would "probably or definitely" consider using a nonbank lender. "Banks have to earn their relevance with any segment, and most definitely with the millennial segment," Case admitted.
Banks are definitely paying attention. Wells, for example, recently began offering a new short-term loan that addresses younger business owners' desire for speed and convenience. Borrowers apply for the loan online and, if approved, the funds — ranging from $10,000 to $30,000 — can be available as early as the following day. JPMorgan Chase recently began teaming with online lender OnDeck Capital to offer quick-turnaround loans to its small-business customers.
Despite millennials' desire for digital convenience, retail branches remain important, said Wells' Hughes. "Our millennial customers go into our retail stores in greater frequency [than do older business owners] because they want that personal relationship with a financial institution," he said.