To ignore Gen Z is ‘to flirt with irrelevance’: Wells Fargo exec

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It's Generation Z's turn to steal the marketing spotlight, according to Wells Fargo's Julia Carreon.

For too long, companies and researchers have been obsessed with millennials, she said, but the age group that follows them — born between 1996 and 2011— is the other piece of an imminent demographic transformation.

“Over the next 10 years, the largest turnover of generations in sheer numbers will occur in our lifetime,” said Carreon, managing director of digital and fiduciary operations at Wells. “The silent generation will die. Boomers will exit the workforce. The much infantilized, forever-frozen-in-time millennials will turn 40, and we will witness the rise of Gen Z.”

Carreon's comments came during a session at the InVest West conference in San Francisco and in a follow-up interview. The conference was hosted by Financial Planning, which like American Banker is owned by SourceMedia.

Members of Generation Z — who are estimated to make up about a third of the world's 7.7 billion people, and include more than 60 million in the U.S. — have distinctive characteristics that banks and other businesses must understand, she said.

Gen Zers will “grow up to be the most demanding consumer the world has ever known,” Carreon said, noting that many of them grew up playing Angry Birds on their parents’ smartphones.

“They will not just expect Angry Birds,” she said. “They will expect digital experiences to be awesome and immersive.”

Gen Z now plays Fortnite, the survival video game played by 250 million people around the world. This is six times the population of Canada, Carreon noted.

“Every person in every sector should be paying attention to what is going on in e-sports for one primary reason: It is changing the consumer expectations of an entire generation,” Carreon said. “E-sports are social, they are engaging, they are actually using all five of your senses. To not pay attention to what is going on here is to flirt with your own irrelevance.”

Generation Z basics

Gen Z controls $45 billion in annual spending. The oldest in the group are nearing 24.

“They're entrepreneurial minded: 72% say they want to own their own business,” Carreon said. “That has significant implications for the kind of products that we would develop.”

About 60% say in surveys that they want to change the world.

“I know every generation says they want to change the world, but in the case of Gen Z, I really think they mean it,” she said. “One in three U.S. teenagers have reported doing volunteer events in the last six months.” There’s the influential social activist Greta Thunberg, who is 16 years old.

Gen Z grew up during the recession, and many watched their parents struggle to make ends meet.

“If you were a kid not knowing where the next meal might come from, when you grow up, you want to be an entrepreneur and not have to hustle for the man,” Carreon said.

Carreon said the generational divide represented by the catchphrase “OK, boomer,” said by millennials who are frustrated by the mistakes and shortcomings of older generations.

“Every generation has an opportunity to get it better, and we have an obligation to help them get there,” she said.

Fight the friction

One thing financial services companies can do to prepare for Gen Z is get rid of clunky processes, Carreon said.

“Although we have digitized checking, savings and credit card products, we are sitting on tons of broken processes in wealth management, asset management, retirement and wholesale businesses, processes that are filled with paper and wet signatures,” she said. “There are still some transactions that require our customers and prospects to find a fax machine.”

Generation Z will expect better. As a start, she recommended listening to the youngest people in the office.

“I believe they are going to change the world, and they will change our business,” she said.

Another thing financial services firms will need to do is push for regulations that let them provide advice over text and social media channels, and thus meet Generation Z where they are.

Video, gamification, virtual reality and augmented reality will all be compelling ways to communicate with this generation, she said.
Carreon suggested signing up for an e-sports newsletter.

“What's really happening here with this cohort is that all of their sensors and social engagement is being impacted by what they're doing on video games,” Carreon said.

And of course, there is the overall need to be open to innovation and change.

“Embracing change keeps you young,” Carreon said. “Resisting change makes you brittle.”

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Digital banking Digital transformation Mobile banking Mobile technology Virtual reality Augmented reality Wells Fargo Women in Banking