Four Ways Banks Can Cater to Generational Trends

As earning power among millennials and Generation Z is expected to grow, banks need to develop strategies for drawing customers from these younger cohorts while also continuing to serve their existing customer base.

But serving these younger groups isn’t just about frictionless, technology-enabled offerings. On a deeper level, banks need to understand the shifting perspective these age groups have around money, debt and investing, as well as the importance of institutional transparency and alignment with the customer’s social values. Millennials, for instance, may feel a sense of disillusionment when it comes to traditional financial institutions, given that many members of this generation — born between 1981 and 1996, according to Pew Research Center — entered the workforce during the Great Recession. Banks need to understand how such experiences influence customer expectations.

This will be especially important for banks; Gen Z — members of which were born between 1997 and 2012 — is on track to surpass millennials in spending power by 2031, according to a report from Bank of America Global Research. Here are four ways banks can cater to newer generational trends and maintain a diverse customer base spanning a variety of age groups.

1. Understand the customer base. In order to provide a range of services that effectively target various demographics, financial institutions first need to understand the different segments of their customer base. Banks should use data to map out a complete picture of the demographics they serve, and then think about how to build products that address the varying needs of those groups.

Some millennials, for instance, prioritize spending on experiences over possessions compared to other generations. Another demographic difference is that 42% of millennials own homes at age 30, versus 48% of Generation X and 51% of baby boomers at the same age, according to Bloomberg. Banks need to factor these distinctions into their offerings so they can continue serving customers who want to go into a branch and engage with a teller, while developing tech-driven solutions that make digital interactions seamless and intuitive. But banks can’t determine which solutions to prioritize until they have a firm grasp on how their customer base breaks down.

2. Understand the shifting approach to money. Younger generations are keeping less cash on hand, opting to keep their funds in platforms such as Venmo and PayPal for peer-to-peer transfers, investing in Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies and other savings and investment apps. All of these digital options are changing the way people think about the concepts of money and investing.

Legacy institutions are paying attention. Bank of New York Mellon Corp. announced in February a new digital assets unit “that will accelerate the development of solutions and capabilities to help clients address growing and evolving needs related to the growth of digital assets, including cryptocurrencies.”

Financial institutions more broadly will need to evaluate what these changing attitudes toward money will mean for their services, offerings and the way they communicate with customers.

3. Be strategic about customer-facing technology. The way many fintech companies use technology to help customers automatically save money, assess whether they are on track to hit their financial goals or know when their balance is lower than usual has underscored the fact that many traditional banks are behind the curve when it comes to using technology to its full potential. Institutions should be particularly aggressive about exploring ways technology can customize offerings for each customer.

Companies should think strategically about which tech functions will be a competitive asset in the marketplace. Many banks have an artificial intelligence-powered chatbot, for instance, to respond to customer questions without involving a live customer service agent. But that doesn’t mean all those chatbots provide a good customer experience; plenty of banks likely implemented them simply because they saw their competitors doing the same. Leadership teams should think holistically about the best ways to engage with customers when rolling out new technologies.

4. Assess when it makes sense to partner. Banks need to determine whether the current state of their financial stack allows them to partner with fintechs, and should assess scenarios where it might make sense — financially and strategically — to enter into such partnerships. The specialization of fintech companies means they can often put greater resources into streamlining and perfecting a specific function, which can greatly enhance the customer experience if a bank can adopt that function.

The relationship between a bank and fintech can also be symbiotic: fintech companies can benefit from having a trusted bank partner use its expertise to navigate a highly regulated environment.

Offering financial products and services that meet the needs of today’s younger generations is an ever-evolving effort, especially as companies in other sectors outside of banking raise the bar for expectations around tailored products and services. A focus on the key areas outlined above can help banks in their efforts to win these customers over.

Attracting Talent in a Brave New World

Getting the talent your bank needs — even just getting candidates to apply and turn up for an interview — has increasingly challenged financial institutions as the country emerges from the Covid-19 pandemic. And the cost to pay them a competitive wage — and benefits — keeps climbing.

Every year in Bank Director’s annual Compensation Survey — which is sponsored by our firm, Newcleus Compensation Advisors — bank executives and directors identify managing compensation and benefit costs as a key challenge for their institution. In this year’s survey, it rates as the second-highest challenge for bank leaders, behind tying compensation to performance.

These tensions are particularly felt by community banks. Those located in urban or suburban markets face stiff competition from large employers like Bank of America Corp., which recently announced plans to increase its minimum wage over the next few years to $25 an hour. Rural banks face similar challenges along with a smaller pool of talent, particularly in high-demand areas including technology, lending, and risk and compliance.

How can your bank attract and retain the talent it needs to survive in today’s environment? We suggest that you consider the following questions as you weigh how to become an employer of choice in your community.

How flexible is your bank willing to be?
Most banks introduced or expanded remote work options and flexible scheduling in 2020. Now that operations are returning “back to normal,” more or less, bank leaders are left to question what worked and what didn’t from a nationwide experiment that occurred during abnormal conditions.

Expectations have shifted over the past year, particularly for younger, digitally-native employees — resulting in a generational divide between staff and management teams. Consider the following from MetLife’s 2021 U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Study:

  • More than two-thirds of employees who can work remotely believe that they should be allowed to choose where they work — not their employer.
  • Half of young employees in their 20s — young millennials and Gen Z — say their work/life balance has improved during the pandemic, and they’re happier as a result. Just a quarter of baby boomers agree.
  • And, crucially: More than three-quarters of employees say they want more flexible scheduling, perhaps splitting their time between remote work and the office. Conversely, the majority of companies surveyed by MetLife expect staff to return to their pre-Covid status quo.

Some employees are interested in returning to the office, but others aren’t. They’ve had months to enjoy a break from long commutes and create an environment that’s comfortable for them.

Will remote work be a passing fad, or a permanent part of the talent landscape? Even if you believe that remote work isn’t a cultural fit for your bank, be aware that you’re competing against it.

Can talented employees from outside the industry strengthen your organization?
Opening your bank up to remote work can broaden the talent pool; so can having an open mind to hiring talent from outside the financial sector. Employees can be educated on the fundamentals of banking; there are training programs all across the country. But a skilled salesperson or someone with deep technology or cybersecurity expertise can fill critical roles at your institution — no matter their background.

 Do you have a good reputation?
Bank leaders often tout the value of their culture — but it can be difficult for leadership teams to truly understand how staff down the ranks view the organization. Conducting employee engagement surveys can help bridge this gap, but also consider how your current and former employees rate your company on external review sites such as Glassdoor, Indeed and Monster.com.

While these websites often attract more negative comments than positive ones, they still can provide a clearer picture of how you’re viewed as an employer — and the perception that prospective employees may have of your organization.

Does your compensation package really stack up?
Your bank isn’t competing solely with other financial institutions for talent — it’s competing against all kinds of companies in your market. We received several comments touching on this in the 2021 Compensation Survey:

Competing employers (not just banks) in our markets can sometimes offer better benefits. We now participate in an internship program at a major state university to develop a pipeline of young talent.” —  Chief executive of a public bank between $1 billion and $10 billion in assets 

“We operate in a highly competitive market, so retaining and attracting technology talent is always an issue. We are competing with Amazon[.com] — hiring 50[,000] workers in our market, as an example.” —  Director of a public bank between $1 billion and $10 billion in assets

Compensation surveys help banks compare their pay packages to peer institutions, but your leadership and human resources teams need to know how your bank compares to local competitors outside the industry, too. This is where boards can provide valuable insights based on their networks and experience, since they’re likely facing the same challenges in their own industries. Leverage that advice.

And consider asking your employees what they value. We’ve found this information to be invaluable to banks, allowing them to review compensation benefits and culture from the employee’s perspective.

The Secret To Marketing To Gen Z and Millennials


millennials-3-26-19.pngIt’s a constant surprise to see how much opportunity still exists within a customer base for increasing revenue via timely and effective cross-selling. Growing revenue by meeting a greater share of an existing customer’s needs is almost always more cost-efficient than seeking out new customers.

We also see many questions about how best to attract and relate to younger consumers among the millennials and Generation Z.

Fortunately, a well-executed digital marketing strategy can be beneficial in expanding your service to existing customers and attracting new business from among the millennials and Gen Z.

Content Marketing
It all starts with a story. While “content marketing” is a common buzzword, the concept is as old as writing itself: good stories get people’s attention. Content marketing is nothing more than informative and entertaining solutions to your customers’ challenges.

Developing an outstanding content marketing program requires deep understanding of the consumer buying cycle. Referred to as the “buyer journey,” this roadmap of consumer behavior outlines the prominent questions and issues at each stage of the buying cycle.

For example, according to a Harris Poll conducted for the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies, 71 percent of millennial workers are saving for retirement and 39 percent of millennials are saving more than 10 percent of their salary. Imagine your bank is selling this group IRA’s and want them to come in for a financial planning session.

It would seem like a perfect fit. But not so fast.

A Charles Schwab study showed that millennials hold 25 percent of their portfolios in cash due to worry about the stock market and investing. Bank marketers have an opportunity to educate potential customers on ways to make those savings grow rather than just promoting the “end point” IRA product.

Savvy marketers prepare a range of content for each stage in the cycle and for each channel of their marketing efforts. Blog posts, social media content, video and podcasts work together to place your bank at the forefront of the consumer’s mind through the process.

Paid Online Advertising Combined With Machine Learning
The world of paid online advertising has expanded dramatically in the last two decades. Commonly referred to as “pay-per-click” or “PPC” advertising, there are tools that allow bank marketers to target specific consumer and business populations with uncanny accuracy. This combined with advances in machine learning technology allows banks to deploy efficient campaigns that deliver targeted content and offers when they are most likely to capture attention.

Paid advertising is measurable in ways traditional advertising is not. PPC advertising allows bank marketers to run campaigns on the basis of Return on Ad Spend (ROAS) nearly in real time. Budgets can be increased or decreased if lead costs are favorable. Offers and creative can be tested on the fly using financial results.

User Experience Design
Many articles gloss over the significance of user experience design in favor of touting the virtues of “online banking.” Marketers ignore this facet of customer acquisition and retention at their peril.

The user experience, or UX, does not need to be pretty in order to be effective.

For banks, UX is important in reducing the friction of any financial transaction where consumers spend most of their time online. Rather than simply think of “having online banking,” bank marketers need to measure the rate of sign-up abandonment, transaction cancellation, and other indicators that a bank’s online tools are difficult to use.

Banks that lack the brand strength of large national or regional players and rely on high-quality customer service need to be relentless in making their online banking options easy to use. Asking customers to download three different apps and carry multiple logins is a far cry from the face recognition and one-button interface offered by some of the nation’s largest banks.

Tying it All Together
The need for financial services is lifelong. Consumers pass through a variety of financial stages throughout their lives. Each of these stages contains its own, unique buyer journey.

Surveys and regular email and social media communication can help current customers find answers to their questions at the right time. Intelligent remarketing that drives paid advertising can help your results appear in their web searches and expand their understanding of the full range of services you offer. Thoughtful UX can enable customers to discover new products that solve problems when they first encounter them.

All of these benefits apply to your prospective clients. Being able to precisely target consumers when they are searching for answers means you can capture their attention earlier in the buying cycle.

Frictionless and “invisible” UX allows you to bring those new customers into your product and service ecosystem with the ease that younger consumers expect.

Pat Summitt’s Model on Talent Development


talent-1-16-19.pngWith unemployment at its lowest point since 1969, the competition for top talent is as fierce as it has been in years.

While many experienced banking professionals know well that the industry offers challenges, rewards and opportunities, many millennials and Gen Z’ers remain reluctant to pursue a career in banking.

The high-performing banks of the future will be those that can translate those benefits to attract, develop, reward and retain top talent. There are two places your bank can start this process.

Banks already provide strong salaries, bonus opportunities, health-care coverage and retirement plans. The challenge the industry now faces is how to make the banking industry more attractive to today’s generation of younger recruits.

What a bank should consider includes flexible work hours, the ability to work remotely and cross-training. If the bank can demonstrate a track record and policy of promoting from within, the job opportunity will be even more attractive to a potential hire.
Another recruiting tool we have often used successfully, particularly for younger individuals, is a deferred compensation program designed to help pay down student loans, with vesting provisions that encourage continued employment at the bank.

But once you acquire top talent, how do you develop them as future leaders?

First, an ongoing coaching and mentoring program is critical.

Pat Summitt, the legendary University of Tennessee women’s basketball coach who won more games than any other NCAA Division I women’s coach, recruited talented players.

Once they joined the team, she delivered an individualized plan to improve each player’s weaker areas. She also provided regular feedback and monitoring. This method of coaching and mentoring led to 1,098 career victories and Hall of Fame success as a coach and leader. So, how can Summitt’s approach help your bank?

When developing the bank’s future senior management, the board and the CEO should ensure they agree on both the long-term strategic plan and the necessary skills to execute that plan.

They should then identify the internal candidates best suited to develop and provide them with opportunities for growth. It is important the bank develop a culture of honest assessment of strengths and weaknesses, and provide ongoing mentoring and feedback.

Even with top talent, it is unlikely that Summitt would have achieved the success she did had she provided her players with feedback only once a year.

In addition to an ongoing assessment and coaching program, the bank should discuss a career path for potential leaders, and the company should provide the necessary training and cross training, when feasible, to allow promising employees to learn each facet of the bank’s operations. Thorough training programs can be very attractive in recruitment and are invaluable to the development of a leader.

Once the bank has invested in developing up-and-coming leaders, rewarding them appropriately and incenting them to remain with your bank is critical. No doubt, your competitors will recognize the strong leaders you are developing and actively recruit your talent, requiring your bank to maintain not just competitive salaries, but methods of keeping your compensation programs unique and desirable.

An example is a nonqualified deferred compensation plan that pays in-service distributions at the end of certain periods, such as three- or five-year time frames. This type of plan typically would include performance-based compensation tied to specified goals.

Additional amounts can be credited to the deferred compensation account and distributed at the end of a longer period (such as 10 years), providing even more incentive to stay with the bank.

If the individual terminates before the applicable distribution period(s), undistributed funds can be allocated to hire a talented replacement or credited back to the bank’s income.

We have found these flexible deferred compensation arrangements, when combined with other tools, to be helpful in recruiting, developing and keeping top talent.

An active career development program bolstered with proper financial incentives can help ensure your bank has the right leaders for the future.

The Secret to Lifelong Relationships With Generation Z


customer-12-14-18.pngGeneration Z consumers are positioned to be a significant force in the financial marketplace. This population group will soon begin graduating from college, earning disposable income, and making decisions about managing their finances.

This opportunity is of interest to many financial institutions that will compete for the loyalty of Gen Z customers for the next several years.

Banks that have been active in education lending have well-established relationships with the Gen Z market as customers already, which offers them an advantage. While being a trusted student loan provider is a start, financial institutions that wish to create lifelong customers must build on the initial relationship with technology-enabled products and individualized experiences the Gen Z consumer has come to expect.

The Gen Z Opportunity and Challenge
The impact of Gen Z on the financial services marketplace must not be underestimated. There were approximately 61 million members of Gen Z in the US in 2015, or about 19 percent of the U.S. population. This percentage is expected to grow to 25 percent by 2020.

While both the Gen Z and millennial generations have grown up in an environment shaped by technology, these groups are very different in their approach and use of financial services.

Gen Z has never known a world without smartphones, social media, or on-demand delivery of products and services. Adobe, Inc. has estimated that nearly half of Gen Z consumers are connected online for 10 or more hours per day and their preferences are strongly influenced by social media.

They are likely to conduct many of their daily activities on mobile devices. Also, while Gen Z members reportedly recognize that large financial institutions can offer products and services using advanced technology, they are less trusting of traditional banks than older customers. Approximately 75 percent of the Gen Z population surveyed said they trust traditional banks (as compared with digital payment solutions) – still a strong preference, but less than the 92 percent reported by baby boomers.

How To Win Gen Z Consumers
To win the loyalty of Gen Z, banks should focus on the following areas:

Invest in digital products and a best-in-class user experience. Gen Z consumers are accustomed to conducting business via mobile devices. So any services you offer—credit and savings products, investment services, or access to account information—it must be available online 24/7.

Some day, chatbots based on artificial intelligence (AI) will likely be an important way to connect with Gen Z consumers.

Focus on the right products. Understand which financial products and services resonate with Gen Z consumers. Research by Javelin, a strategy and consulting firm, shows 51 percent of Gen Z-ers do not plan to apply for a credit card, but they do start thinking early about retirement, according to a 2017 study by the Center for Generational Kinetics. For these reasons, your institution may make more headway by cross-selling savings accounts or retirement programs to your student loan customers.

Use social media. Gen Z members rely heavily on social media, so target your digital marketing to genuine influencers on those platforms like Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, etc.

Foster a spirit of community. Research shows Gen Z members seek community. Being involved in your community through philanthropy, hosting career fairs and educational events are ways banks can appeal to Gen Z consumers.

Market in an age-appropriate manner. Make sure your marketing campaigns are designed and written in a way that will resonate with the Gen Z audience. Since Gen Z values experiences, one idea to consider is a travel rewards program layered on a promotion for a savings account or debit card.

Credit unions, banks and other financial institutions have originated approximately $90 billion in private student loans. That represents a lot of potential for Gen Z borrowers to become life-long customers if you build on those relationships with the right products and services, technology, social media and marketing.