Break The Bank Part 2: Misunderstood Millennials

Breaking the Bank: Charting a different course for credit unions in the millennial economy.

  • Millennials are resilient, despite substantial economic trauma
  • If you believe the millennial myths, you’d be mistaken
  • Optimism, clarity, and concision underpin an effective millennial marketing strategy

It’s indisputable that millennials have ample reason to be disenfranchised by the banking and financial services industry (See Part 1: Bank of Netflix). For the vast majority of these consumers (born between 1980 and 2000) it’s the only economic reality they have known.

Think about it. Millennials were accustomed to financial instability before they were legally able to drink. Only the oldest millennials - a minor fraction of the overall demo - were 21 prior to the 9/11 attacks. The youngest in the generation are becoming eligible to drive and are about to finish high school. Although their recollection of 9/11 (and the ensuing economic recession of 2001) has only been experienced through family stories and the media, young millennials survived a similarly caustic economic hardship in their youth and adolescence - the impact of the subprime mortgage crisis and Great Recession.

The millennial generation is bookended by economic trauma, and the vast majority of the group has been conditioned to withhold trust... in banks… big business… branches of government, and the news media.

To put it plainly, the millennial generation is bookended by economic trauma, and the vast majority of the group has been conditioned to withhold trust... in banks… big business… branches of government, and the news media. In general, Americans lack confidence in these institutions, but millennials lack trust at historic levels. Nearly nine in ten millennials express distrust of Wall Street and the press - about ten percentage points greater than the general U.S. population.

However, let’s not present the millennial mindset in a strictly dystopian view. The same economic uncertainty that has defined distrust in institutions has created a very distinct, savvy generation of consumers. So let’s debunk three (of the many) millennial myths to better understand the motivations that underpin millennial financial consumption patterns and expectations.

FACT or CRAP: Millennials are lazy and self-obsessed


Millennials have a do-it-yourself mentality and often look inward to solve problems. Economic uncertainty has translated into well-informed, price-sensitive, and deal-savvy consumers. They would rather trust themselves to complete a task online - the same task that older generations may have completed in-person or outsourced. Combined with technology and digital nativity, the DIY mindset manifests itself in millennials managing their personal finances online, including taxes, banking, insurance, and general shopping and consumption activities.

TAKEAWAY: Empower and enable millennials to connect with your brand through technology. Engaging design, speed, simplicity, and functionality are important baselines. Any deficiency in these areas will serve as a barrier to your brand attracting a millennial consumer.

FACT or CRAP: Millennials are irresponsible spenders, who want everything for free.


Although millennials are impulsive shoppers that often need to have the latest and greatest technology or accessory, their spending reflects self development and societal investment. Millennials are value shoppers who value experiences. Despite the fact that they spend above average on groceries, entertainment, and technology, millennials shop for deals and discounts more than any other generation. Moreover, millennials give back. In addition to overwhelmingly supporting local and small businesses, millennials are supportive of startups and charities via crowdfunding. Furthermore, millennials are avid supporters of authentic, socially-responsible businesses and philanthropic initiatives.

TAKEAWAY: Transparency and value are not enough to bring millennials into the fold.

Your business needs to craft a compelling community, built around character and a connected commerce experience, and support causes young consumers care about. Sharing cost-saving tips, lifehacks, and value-added experiences helps reinforce your commitment to the customer - a necessity to develop brand loyalty with an otherwise fickle generation, with fluid consideration sets.

FACT or CRAP: Millennials are motivated and hold a positive outlook on their futures.


Millennials have certainly experienced economic setbacks and feel that they should be earning more at their present life stage. However, they are focused on the present and optimistic about the future. Millennials are driven to work for success and once discovered, they desire stability, and workplace and life flexibility (in addition to pay). Furthermore, although a strong majority of millennials express entrepreneurial intentions, they appear to be risk-averse - perhaps explaining why entrepreneurship is at a near 30-year low.

TAKEAWAY: Don’t express your empathy for millennials. Instead, make sure your product offerings and marketing messaging clearly illustrates the value and benefits without the BS.

If your product lacks differentiation or your rate is merely competitive with the industry, don’t oversell it as the greatest thing since sliced bread. In fact, don’t sell it at all. Put the honest facts out there, and maintain multiple lines of communication to the customer. Be clear and be concise. In this uber-saturated media landscape, time is the most precious commodity, in life and in work.

In our final installment, we’ll process the “who” and “why” and translate it into “how” to succeed in marketing financial services to millennials. HINT: Think local.