With reports projecting a $59 trillion wealth transfer from one generation to the next over the next 50 years and predicting that 90% of prospective heirs will switch financial advisors once they obtain that inheritance, it’s never been more imperative for advisors to know how to work with different generations.

That’s why Ivy Funds partnered with BridgeWorks, a consulting and research firm that has been dedicated solely to the study of generational dynamics since 1998, to launch its new educational program called GenLink. GenLink looks at each generation’s formative years, as these years have a significant impact on behavior, outlook and generational personality.

“Each generation is sort-of defined by the events and conditions that happened in the world during their formative years, which is roughly your teenage years,” said Lori Dorsey, SVP/Director of Marketing at Ivy Funds, during a phone call with ThinkAdvisor.

Knowing the distinct generational personalities can help an advisor build stronger relationships and better connect with any generation.

“We’re very focused, obviously, on how the boomers and traditionalists who have been advisors for many years learn how to better communicate with millennials and Gen X,” Dorsey said. “But it’s got to work from the other direction as well. Advisors who enter the business, how do they understand the expectations of an older generation?”

ThinkAdvisor talked with Dorsey to get tips for advisors on how to deal with the different generations.

“These are based on sociological trends,” Dorsey said. “It’s not like you-were-born-on-this-day so you must fit all of these characteristics. But, as a generation, they’re pretty telling.”

Keep reading for some characteristics of four generations of clients — traditionalists, baby boomers, Gen Xers and millennials — and some tips on how to best meet their needs:

Traditionalists: 1945 and earlier

Traditionalists: 1945 and Earlier

Traditionalists were born before the Baby Boom began in 1946, making them 70 or older. There are about 75 million traditionalists alive in the U.S. today.

“The things that were going on in the world when they were coming of age: Great Depression, New Deal, World War II, Cold War, Pearl Harbor,” Dorsey said. “Even today, we find that those are very patriotic people. They’re extremely loyal whether it’s to a brand or to their advisor. These were the households that were, like, Ford or Chevy households — couldn’t switch.”

According to GenLink’s research, one of the best gifts advisors can give a traditionalist client is their time because these older clients characteristically don’t want to feel as though they’re pressured into a decision.

Baby Boomers

Baby Boomers: 1946 to 1964

The boomer generation — those born between 1946 and 1964 — is one of the largest and wealthiest generations in history. There are 80 million boomers today.

“What’s interesting is that the boomer generation is so broad that the first 10 years and the second 10 years are very characteristically different,” Dorsey said. “So, you’re even finding people talk about how that generation has two cohorts in it. You’ve got those between 50 and 60 who view retirement very differently from those that are 60 and older. They view money differently, they communicate with their kids differently.”

Boomers, during their formative years, might remember the Vietnam War or Watergate or the oil embargo or the Beatles.

“They generally believe that they can compete with anything, beat anything,” Dorsey said. “They challenge every authority. You know, very idealistic.”

Dorsey said most advisors feel “very confident” today that they know how to communicate with boomers.

“While they’re probably right,” she added, “I would give you that example of understanding the difference between a boomer who’s 51 and a boomer who is 68. There’s pretty significant differences there.”

Gen Xers: 1965 to 1979

Gen Xers: 1965 to 1979

“It’s funny,” said Dorsey, who is a self-proclaimed Gen Xer. “Advisors often think of Gen X as a young generation, and, while I don’t like to think of myself as old, Gen Xers turned 50 this year, so we’re not exactly kids anymore.”

Gen Xers, born between 1965 and 1979, are 35 to 50 years old today. Numbering around 60 million, Gen X is one of the smaller of the generations.

“We grew up when basically 24-hour news cycles had just entered the world and we were seeing a lot of change happening,” Dorsey said. “There was MTV. We saw a lot of missing children reports. The divorce rates spiked during this time, so you had a lot of kids at home alone, like your latchkey kids.”

Dorsey describes this generation as “very self-reliant, independent, but extremely skeptical.”

Their skepticism builds an outer layer that advisors may have to break down, Dorsey explained.

“It’s important that when you’re communicating with that Gen Xer that you basically are very transparent, and tell it like it is,” she said. “We don’t like anything sugarcoated because we have to get past that skeptical layer.

But, once past a Gen Xer’s skepticism, trust is formed.  

“We’re looking for that service of valued advisor, it’s just breaking down that outer layer,” Dorsey said. “Being a resource and not a salesperson is huge for this generation.”

Millennials: 1980 to 1995

Millennials: 1980 to 1995

The millennial generation, born between 1980 and 1995, experienced violence closer to home than other generations — online bullying; school shootings including the massacre in Columbine, Colorado; and terrorist attacks on home soil like the Sept. 11 attacks.

“Because of all this violence in school, the role of teachers and guidance counselors became very different. There was this reassurance of ‘Please speak up. Your voice will be heard,’” Dorsey said. “That ultimately created this very idealistic and realistic, environmentally conscious, collaborative generation.”

Millennials also became accustomed to a “very customized” world, Dorsey said.

“I mean, think about the way you listen to music: You’re an iTunes generation. You didn’t have to listen to a whole album, you could build whatever playlist you wanted,” she said.

“For advisors, the main thing about communication with millennials is customization,” Dorsey said. “Finding out how you can customize the experience for a millennial investor is really important.”

Millennials also like group projects and collaborating — they learned from an early age that “two heads are better than one and three are better than two,” Dorsey said.

“No millennial thinks they’re going to go into a room with one advisor that’s going to tell them exactly what to do and how they’re going to do it,” she said.

They are currently the largest generation, with 82 million millennials today.

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