Many financial firms still debate ways they can harness the power of millennials (or “Gen Xers,” born 1981-1996) to drive new business and build out market share. At the same time, as ever-shorter cycles of technology advances accelerate social change, the financial industry needs to crack the code for targeting Gen Z (born 1996 and later), the first generation born into a digital world.
Indeed, by 2020 Generation Z will make up 40 percent of consumers, with an estimated available spent of $44 billion, according to a recent EY study. Figuring out how to best target this new generation (perhaps more financially savvy than prior ones), with the help of new technologies and data analysis, will be a primary goal for many. But let’s make no mistake – viewing Gen Z solely through the lens of their potential purchasing power will short change financial and other firms.
Expect Gen Z’s impact to be more far reaching!
Gen Z likes to disrupt – a concept familiar to the financial industry and one that’s often times associated with opportunity. Gen Zers are already inverting the marketer/buyer dynamic and are setting the ground rules for how, when and with what information they want to be reached. As digital natives they are generally one step ahead, and firms need to operate on their terms or risk losing Gen Zers as potential customers. But think for a moment more broadly how Gen Z’s new attitudes – once in the workforce — will rhyme with or potentially reset financial firms’ mode of operation, approach to managing, strategizing, or communicating with external audiences.
Smart brand managers will need to take a more holistic view of the next generation’s potential to shape a company’s market perception. After all, it’s the sum of interactions with the market that defines a brand. Whether as internal or external agents, the fact is that Gen Zers’ radically different attitudes, skills and behaviors have the potential to shake up conventions and alter the brand image.
Gen Zers are self-proclaimed pragmatists. Their views and DIY attitudes have been shaped by times of growing (global) instability and massive disruption. The multitude of challenges Gen Zers have faced in their formative years has given rise to a more self-reliant and fearless generation than the Millennials who raised them.
Gen Z owns other distinct traits, such as a greater sense of accountability and self-awareness, entrepreneurial drive and financial acumen. Gen Z also owns fewer credit cards and debt than Gen X, and Gen Zers expect to instantly see value for their expenditures.
All told, this should give firms pause to reflect on the broader implications, along with opportunities for how to to harness the traits of Gen Z and differentiate the firm in the marketplace – beyond building market share for new products.
Here are just a couple examples for how Gen Z’s impact may be felt:
MANAGEMENT AND LEADERSHIP
As digital natives, Gen Zers don’t see borders in the traditional sense. They are a global-minded peer group that endorses ethnic diversity (according to Census Bureau data, by 2020 Gen Z will be the U.S.’s first majority-majority cohort). Gen Zers aren’t accustomed to sitting around and figuring out solutions to problems themselves. Hierarchical structures leave them cold, and they aren’t shy about giving advice to people who are 20+ years older. Accordingly, expect them to break conventions when it comes to managing teams or projects, or communicating with internal and external audiences.
Instead of waiting for a seismic shift in business culture to happen financial firms need to determine how they ought to leverage Gen Z’s attitudes and aptitude for digital leadership 4.0 and new management styles.
ACQUISITION OF TALENT
Speaking in general terms, Gen Z is highly educated, ambitious and curious. By the time they join the workforce many of them have basic work experience under their belts.
Many aforementioned traits of Gen Z folks will help them advance in careers. Other traits, such as their impulse to challenge the status quo, drive change and be part of the solution, can present serious challenges for companies. But these traits also benefit firms eager for change and greater adaptability.
The strategic placement of Gen Z talent in turnkey leadership and management positions—in collaboration with experienced senior managers, as well as throughout the organization—may help accelerate or induce positive corporate change before it becomes a necessity.
PUSHING FOR CHANGE
On which side of the negotiating table will Gen Zers build a career in the financial industry? Will companies meet them again as employees, investors, advisors, stewards of best practices or in activist roles? Remember Gen Z speaking out on gun control, pressing for change and impactfully altering the national conversation, and prompting financial firms to look more critically at investments in their portfolios? Either way, Gen Z’s distinct views, independent thinking and entrepreneurial drive is likely to put financial services firms to the test.
Without doubt, Gen Z’s heightened sense of accountability and its attitude toward finances at an early age are guaranteed to shape their thinking as they grow older, more experienced, influential, and as they accumulate assets.
For the financial industry, and firms across verticals, now is the time to seriously start thinking about how they can not only target, but build trust with and interact with Gen Z, whose members will want to have it just their way—or go elsewhere. Buckle up.
– Katrin Lieberwirth
Image via Unsplash