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Why we need to engage with Gen Y — and how

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I have eight sons and daughters, four of whom are millennials (also known as “Gen Y”). Each is accomplished, yet different than his or her siblings. Both my personal experience and the research I’ve reviewed indicate millennials can’t be typecast, but among their ranks are some incredibly bright, driven young people with whom our industry has an opportunity to engage more fully – to educate about our products as well as our profession. The challenge is not to target millennials; it’s to reach the right millennials in the right way.

Who are the right millennials: our prospective clients and colleagues? An online search for “types of millennials” brings up links to recent articles and blog posts that mention five types of millennials, six types, seven, even 12. The reality is that every millennial is unique, even if he or she shares some common traits with others in the same age range (18-34).

As financial professionals, we can’t employ a blanket approach if we want to interact in meaningful ways with people who “fit” under the millennial umbrella, just as we can’t generalize our approach to baby boomers or Gen Xers. The perspectives I’m sharing in this article are based on the millennials I know best; they’re among the most highly motivated people I’ve known, regardless of age. Admittedly, I’m a bit biased, but my goal in sharing personal insights is that they will be helpful if you have not yet engaged deeply with millennial clients or recruits.

Four of my kids are enrolled in college or will be in a few months; another is a recent graduate. All of them are insulted by the unflattering messages they have heard about millennials because all of my kids work hard. Their goal, and mine, has been that when they emerge from college, we have no debt for any of them.

They’ve heard horror stories about some of their peers who are grappling with enormous student loan and credit card debt. If millennials are concerned about financial well-being, might they not be prospective clients? Might they not be potential new talent and ambassadors for our industry?

Regarding recruitment opportunities, I believe if our industry can impart messages that are appropriate for high-performing millennials, we can attract more of them. My kids are interested in being in business for themselves, but not by themselves. They have high regard for the entrepreneurial thought process, but also like being on teams. They can envision themselves working within a group of financial professionals — as a strategist or a coach helping their friends — but they don’t like selling.

When my kids want to know how I respond when asked what I do for a living, my answer is that I put life insurance strategies in place to provide protection and help people accumulate wealth by eliminating or reducing taxes. Cue the requisite disclaimer here: As financial professionals, it’s incumbent on us to tell clients at the outset of planning to consult their own legal or tax counsel when considering their own circumstances. But to the point: My sons and daughters are not producers or advisors, but they recognize the value of helping people by solving problems. They say, “Dad, I could do that!”

My kids also think our industry could better leverage the priorities of people their age to raise interest in this profession. Much has been said and written about how Gen Yers have been coddled; if they have been, perhaps that’s why some seem so aware human beings are vulnerable and have substantial needs: why they care about making this world a better place.

When people care about creating a positive legacy, I think the window for engaging in a conversation about life insurance is wide open. Term insurance, in particular, may represent an attractive opportunity for agents to talk with Gen Yers about solutions. It’s easy to relay the value proposition of flexible term products that offer the opportunity to buy just the amount of coverage needed at affordable prices.

It’s also easy to explain that even with term life insurance, supplemental riders are available to help protect against the financial distress that a debilitating illness or injury might create. But not every financial professional interacts frequently with millennials about life insurance solutions.

My kids have some friends who were unaware it’s possible to put as little as $50 a month into a universal life (UL) insurance policy in which the  interest earnings are generally considered tax deferred (based on current tax law) and have the potential to accumulate. Consider that millennials haven’t grown up in the seemingly bygone era of protracted 15-20 percent rates of return on financial products. Life insurance is not an investment, as you know, but let’s not underestimate the number of Gen Y consumers who might welcome the opportunity to put 3-4 percent of their income into a life insurance contract that offers the potential for growth in cash value.

How do we match millennials to products designed to suit their needs? My experience is that Gen Yers don’t necessarily want to meet face to face, but are inclined to buy financial products and services over the phone or via mobile/online avenues if they understand the compelling reasons for these solutions. As LIMRA has shared, 52 percent of recently surveyed Gen Y consumers said they want professional financial advice to determine their need for life insurance.

I believe financial professionals who can identify and engage with millennials who are on a path toward prosperity have the potential to fulfill needs, and that providing access to insurance can be accomplished time-efficiently, even though the planning process should start with a comprehensive needs analysis.

I’ve noticed, however, that when it comes to my kids and their purchasing processes, anything resembling a sales pitch shuts them down. They’re married to technology, but embrace warm, deep dialogue when they believe what is being offered is of value and that the goal is to help them.

If we first engage with clients when they are millennials — about a term product, for example — how do we help them transition to more sophisticated offerings designed to address multiple needs: for example, a UL that’s packaged with two accelerated benefit riders to help protect against the financial impacts of longevity or chronic illness? I believe the potential to provide an expanded range of solutions arises from the relationships nurtured after the sale, and from partnering with a carrier that offers a broad, diverse product portfolio, imbued with optionality and built with evolving client needs in mind.

If millennial clients do not prepare for their evolving needs, they are making a decision about their financial future. I’m hopeful our industry will do more to educate clients about the power of life insurance, including appropriate riders, throughout life.

How do we foster dialogue with the millennials we want to inform, whether about the role of life insurance or a role in the life insurance industry? Perhaps the key is to use a bit of humor, be more casual at times, and interact more fully with Gen Y consumers through social media.

Let’s show them we work in a dynamic, exciting, fast-paced environment and educate them about our solutions and services without lecturing. Let’s articulate, in 140 characters, how our industry is making positive changes in the world and how millennials can help facilitate that transformation. I believe our industry is one of the best and does an abundance of good, but we don’t always share that story.

Let’s revisit the millennials with whom we should be sharing the story: they love mentoring; they love being on a team. They’ve been told often that they’re special. If we demonstrate we understand how special they are, and show them they can be in business with a supportive group and help other people, I think we can expand our industry’s ranks, because the millennials I know are compelled to make a difference.

That’s one thing that comes through loud and clear. And what better industry for them to choose than ours; we make a difference in every community.

My daughter Morgan is making a difference. She graduated magna cum laude from the University of San Francisco a year ago with a degree in environmental science and is supporting her employer, a company in California, in its goal to improve sustainability. She knows millennials who are millionaires, but her salary and benefit package is not her motivation.

She says, “Dad, California is undergoing a drought and this company depends on water, and I am needed.” She is driven, but never talks about her paycheck. She is passionate about her team, how they communicate, and how they share the mission of helping the company accomplish more with less water.

My son Mitchell, who has been educated at more than one college, has found his niche as an artist in Colorado, creating paintings and sculptures from recycled materials, and showing his work in galleries. He may be even “greener” than Morgan. I’m not sure how my wife and I produced offspring who are so determined to make a positive impact, but most of their friends seem to be the same way.

My 18-year-old, Macall, a gymnast and a math whiz, has been offered full scholarships to two universities. She cares deeply about helping her fellow athletes; gymnastics is a demanding sport and collaborating with teammates matters tremendously.

Also, when people categorize all millennials as lazy, I think of this gymnastics team, because they exemplify discipline, focus and hard work. Macall broke her back at nationals and had to get two titanium rods and eight screws in it, but returned to her sport a year later and still competes nationally.

My son Matt has also accomplished much at a young age and will be a college freshman next fall. He is ready to embrace his future. Maddee is a ballerina; she received a scholarship for the Pennsylvania Ballet and has danced for the Obamas. She believes the arts can inspire people to be kinder. She communicates with me frequently via Snapchat, Instagram and text message, but she never calls me – and neither does Morgan, Mitchell, or my daughter Macall. They only text me, although they love me. I grew up associating warmth with people who call on the phone if they’re not nearby, but my kids text me that they care.

I share this insight because whether the goal is to match the needs of millennials to solutions or connect Gen Yers to careers in our industry, we would be wise to respect how they prefer to communicate and what they respond to. If they don’t believe any one person has all the answers and gravitate instead toward groups, consider how well they may react to the opportunity to engage with an integrated financial team of professionals that includes an attorney, a tax expert, an allocations expert, etc.

Let’s recognize lifestyle needs, too. If my kids are representative of their generation, millennials are on the go and working at something incessantly (whether in business or their personal lives). Having a flexible schedule is a monumental priority. That might be worthwhile to keep in mind when striving to link Gen Yers to life insurance solutions or careers.

My environmental scientist is not the same as my artist, gymnast, ballerina or other kids, but all of them are coachable. Variances among millennials notwithstanding, my belief is that legions of ambitious, high-achieving Gen Yers are rising in the corporate ranks, excelling in their chosen livelihoods, and pursuing their entrepreneurial passions.

These high achievers are among the people to keep top of mind when seeking to foster new talent for our profession or to match solutions to needs. But when it comes to millennials, we have to reach out in different ways to earn their attention and their affinity, while understanding their need to make a difference in the world. To paraphrase Theodore Roosevelt, they don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

See also:

34% of millennials still uninsured [infographic]

5 opportunities to sell to Gen Y

A 4-step investment plan for millennials

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