If you want to forge a relationship with clients under the age of 48, the highly coveted Generation X and Gen Y clients, that means knowing how to talk to them. It’s more than knowing their Twitter habits. It means understanding patterns of affluent societies throughout history and how the children of those societies see themselves.
That was the message delivered by Cam Marston, the president of Generational Insights and a demographics researcher, speaking at Fidelity’s Inside Track NYC conference for advisors on October 30 in Midtown Manhattan.
According to Marston, throughout history the patterns of affluent societies are the same: In the early growth stages of such cultures, people are more focused on collaboration and teamwork and struggling together. As these societies become wealthier, however, they increasingly celebrate individuality. We’re at the mature stage of such a society, Marston posits, which means these younger, would-be financial services clients see themselves as unique and want to be approached that way.
“Every time a society goes from struggling to affluent, we see these changes,” he said. “The generations who create the affluence for a society have an ethos of ‘team,’ of ‘us.’ In our lifetime they are called the baby boomers and the matures—post-Great Depression. They have created the affluence in this nation we know today. And if you’re a baby boomer or a ‘mature’ you will probably admit that in order to become successful at what you did, you had to submit to becoming a part of the team. As a society reaches affluence, the generations raised during times of affluence over and over again take on an attitude of individuality. They don’t choose it.”
Marston said the tools of new generations might be different, yet this shift to individuality is seen repeatedly.
In such a transformation, for examples, Renaissance Florence paintings turn to portraits and away from tableaus of groups. In modern times, it means kids get ribbons for sporting events just for showing up.
And this shift in value away from the group has made its stamp on the figures of Gens X and Y, said Marston, in that their members tend to think of themselves as unique and tend to see products and services as accoutrements of the lives they’re already living.
Financial advisors wanting to talk to these groups must know that and tailor messages accordingly. In that vein, think of the advertisements that reflect what a Gen Xer's life is like today.
Chances are, though, advisors are losing these potential key clients when the wealth is transferred to them, likely because they keep talking with them as they did to the kids' parents by positioning a firm and its history, whether or not that matters to the younger targets.
There are divergences among generations, too, that advisors must get a grasp on. Gen Xers, Marston said, are much more cynical. They have seen one financial catastrophe after another and tend to live more for the moment.