How much should banks care about millennials? A recent op-ed by community bank marketing executive Kevin Tynan argued that banks focus too much on attracting young customers, since they tend to be low-margin, unreliable clients.
I believe this view is misguided. Without millennials, financial institutions will find themselves in a precarious position in coming years, particularly as tech giants like Google, Apple and Samsung seek to elbow in on the financial services industry.
There are plenty of reasons why banks should focus on the millennial generation. For starters, this group is entering what I would classify as the most important part of their financial lifecycles. Millennials are loosely defined as those born from 1980 through 1995. While the group at the tail end of this generation is still made up of young, college-aged individuals, the front end of that tidal wave actually looks a lot like young members of Gen X. The majority of millennials have entered the workforce, with some entering their second decade of employment.
The financial needs of this generation are not very different from the ones that preceded them. The difference is that millennials are hitting milestones like homeownership later in life, in large part because of the burden of student loan debt and the impact of the Great Recession.
The Great Recession hit us millennials harder than any preceding generation. We watched home foreclosures, bank failures and a dismal job market play out just as we were supposed to be enjoying our first tastes of freedom. Many young professionals wound up living back under our parents' roofs. Making things worse was college debt accruing at a breakneck pace.
The good news for both banks and millennials is that this generation is finally coming into its own, expanding beyond deposit accounts to take out mortgages, open credit cards and retirement accounts and even start saving for the college educations of our own children. The biggest difference is that having seen the effects of student loan debt and the financial crisis, millennials tend to be wary of a debt-driven lifestyle.
Therefore banks should be focused on helping this generation approach and service their existing debt, while showing them how to establish a healthy financial lifestyle so they aren't living paycheck to paycheck. If banks can offer such services to this group, they can create loyal customers. The loyalty has to cut both ways, however: you can't expect a millennial to put up with fees for fees' sake.
Banks need to make a value proposition to millennials, speak their language and most importantly, act as a mentor as they begin making major financial decisions. Do that, and millennials will start to look like your older customers: loyal, though not to a fault.
Mark Ranta is senior solutions consultant at ACI Worldwide. Follow him on Twitter: @DigitalBankGuru.