Digital and Millennials:
Fancy versus fact

MerrWebstDefHi. I’m Matt and I’m a Millennial.

(The group responds: Hi Matt!)

These days bankers spend a lot of time analyzing Millennials, which is to say, people between the ages of 18 to 37. (Or it is 22 to 38? 20 to 36? No one seems to agree.) And no wonder. We are digital banking’s immediate future. And we are raising digital banking’s future’s future.

Many observations about Millennials are well defended. The numbers indeed seem to show we’re quicker to adopt new technologies, more open to new ideas, and a little more flexible when it comes to letting people do their own thing. On the other hand, we seem to be marrying, buying homes, and having children later in life than our parents did. 

(Marketers might want to note that according to a Pew Research study reported by TIME, some of us aren’t terribly fond of being called Millennials. Brandish the M-word at your own risk.)

Fiserv’s Experiences and Expectations quarterly consumers trends surveys have repeatedly shown that Millennials lead the charge when it comes to adopting digital banking products. And American Bankers Association says that we Millennials are three times more likely to open an account on a smartphone than in person, and that if you offer digital services you’ll be “better positioned” to engage us. (ABA also says we’re going to inherit some $30 trillion over the next three or four decades. One can only hope.)

Some characterizations are less flattering. According to LiveScience staff writer Douglas Main, Millennials have been …

… described as lazy, narcissistic and prone to jump from job to job. The 2008 book Trophy Kidsby Ron Alsop discusses how many young people have been rewarded for minimal accomplishments (such as mere participation) in competitive sports, and have unrealistic expectations of working life.

Adding insult to injury, a 2015 Mintel study as reported in the New York Times alleged that …

Almost 40 percent of the millennials … said cereal was an inconvenient breakfast choice because they had to clean up after eating it.

Which explains why in the above-referenced piece in TIME added,

It’s not hard to understand why some Millennials might want to distance themselves from an identity that has often been equated with being self-absorbed, whiny and spoiled.

Thank you, TIME. And to TIME’s point, I for one do not shy from cold cereal merely because cleanup follows. Nothing will ever come between me and my Honey Nut Cheerios.

It has always been fashionable for older generations to lament the habits of the rising one. Writing for Huffington Post, author Michael Hobbes, self-described as “35 years old—the oldest millennial, the first millennial,” suggests that psychographic descriptors applied to millennials are trivial, and in any case may result from external factors:

What is different about us as individuals compared to previous generations is minor. What is different about the world around us is profound. Salaries have stagnated and entire sectors have cratered. At the same time, the cost of every prerequisite of a secure existence—education, housing and health care—has inflated into the stratosphere. From job security to the social safety net, all the structures that insulate us from ruin are eroding. And the opportunities leading to a middle-class life—the ones that boomers lucked into—are being lifted out of our reach. Add it all up and it’s no surprise that we’re the first generation in modern history to end up poorer than our parents.

All of which may be useful to keep in mind when making marketing decisions based on how Millennials think and act. Despite the acknowledged, numbers-supported differences above, perhaps there is no one way that Millennials think and act. In a recent piece for Medium, independent author Zhivko Illeieff warns that…

After three decades of commercializing, sensationalizing, and whitewashing the millennial generational narrative, modern society has little to show for it other than consultancy fees, sponsored think pieces, and viral videos about millennials’ work habits.

Humans are prone to characterize groups they’re not part of, usually not in the most flattering of terms. Such has had disastrous results throughout history. In terms of marketing, failing to take a critical look at wide-swath characterizations may lead to lost opportunities and missteps. When it comes to sweeping generalizations, caution is always advised.

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