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4 unusual ways millennials are different from boomers

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Advisors have been doing a lot of thinking about millennials, the generation born between 1980 and 2000.

As the largest age cohort in the U.S. — 92 million, compared with 77 million boomers — they constitute the next big group of prospective clients. Some might even be able to meet your minimums now. One way of thinking of millennials, a new report suggests, is that they’re more likely to be renters, not buyers — of big-ticket consumer durables like homes, yes, but also of cars and other goods and services.

Some naysayers (Blogger Bob Clark, a regular contributor to LifeHealthPro’s sister site ThinkAdvisor, comes to mind) suggest that millennials don’t have the assets, yet, to be the focus of advisors’ marketing efforts, and that younger people may be less prone to actually accepting your advice, making them bad clients even if they had the money to meet advisors’ minimums. However, the consensus is that advisors shouldn’t ignore millennials whose digital nativism and social-networking nature will make them harder to reach using current advisor marketing methods. (How many people under 60, for example, attended your last ‘seminar’ at the local library or restaurant?)

A comprehensive, interactive infographic from Goldman Sachs delivers some unique information on the generation and may prompt some thought among advisors who want to reach this group. Based on a meta-analysis of multiple surveys, Millennials: Coming of Age also provides some insights into how the social changes precipitated by this group may lead to corporate change. (The Goldman infographic is part of the firm’s “Our Thinking” series of white papers. A recommendation: Read its Internet of Things (IoT) report.)

Keep reading for four major differences between millennials and boomers, according to the Goldman report:


1. Renters, not buyers

As one example of how millennials may be more renters than buyers in some areas, take automobiles. In a 2013 survey, Goldman asked millennial responders “How important is it for you to own the following?” On cars, 15 percent said it was “extremely important,” and 25 percent chose the response “It’s important, but not a big priority.” However, 30 percent said they do not intend to buy a car in the future, while 25 percent said “I might purchase one if I really need it,” but are otherwise indifferent to the notion. What message does that send to car manufacturers, or perhaps more accurately, to car dealers? What does it say about the rise of Uber and Zipcar?

In other areas of consumer behavior, take vacation rentals and music listening. Boomers might be proud of their CD collections or even vinyl records, but few 25- to 34-year-olds buy CDs (ask the record companies, if you can find anyone still there to answer your call). While boomers may fondly recall backpacking across Europe and staying in cheap hostels, Airbnb has changed the conversation, putting even recent disruptors of the travel business like online travel consolidators at risk.

Just yesterday, for instance, Priceline Group’s stock (PCLN) fell to a 12-week low after getting a downgrade from Deutsche Bank. MarketWatch reported that Deutsche analyst Lloyd Walmsley was concerned that Priceline’s internal operating efficiencies had peaked, but Walmsley also warned that Priceline’s competition, specifically Airbnb, is being underestimated. “Google Trends…shows growing direct queries for Airbnb (awareness), and we see more loyalty with Airbnb’s model,” Walmsley said, “than ‘traditional’ online travel agents.” 

Going back to the Goldman report, millennials’ “renter not buyer” preferences goes for homeownership, too. Two surveys of 25- to 34-year-olds by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, separated by only eight years, asked how many chose to rent their homes rather than buy. In 2008, 52 percent said they preferred to rent; by 2013, that number had risen to 60 percent.

Economist Jeremy Rifkin’s conclusion cited in the Goldman study? “Twenty-five years from now, car sharing will be the norm, and car ownership an anomaly.”


2. A different definition of health

You may have heard (mostly older) people say, in discussing the vicissitudes of age, that despite any setbacks you’ve faced, “at least you have your health.” Even that concept — of “health” as the state of being free of serious illness — is different for millennials. The Goldman study says that when it comes to “wellness,” millennials see it as a “daily, active pursuit. They’re exercising more, eating smarter and smoking less than previous generations.”

A 2013 Aetna study asked respondents how they define “healthy.” Twenty-four percent of millennials chose “eating right” (compared to 12 percent for boomers), 22 percent chose exercising (compared to 12 percent for boomers). While 46 percent of boomers defined healthy as “not falling sick,” only 29 percent of millennial respondents did so.

The Goldman study notes that millennials use apps and the Web to support their exercise habits and find healthy foods, and the study points out that “this is one area where they’re willing to spend money on compelling brands.


3. Higher debt, lower pay

Citing Bureau of Labor Statistics data, younger millennials (15-24) have lower income than the same group had over the past 15 years: that group’s mean income stood at 69 percent of the total population’s mean income in 2000, but that percentage declined to 64 percent by 2012.

For those slightly older, their college debt has become a much bigger burden. Federal Reserve data shows that the mean balance of student loan debt for 25-year-olds nearly doubled from $10,649 in 2003 to $20,926 in 2013. Perhaps they can use some advice on how to handle that debt load.


4. How they buy; how they refer

Millennials are digital natives, which deeply affects how they refer others to buy, or avoid, products or services.

On the buying side, a 2014 international survey by MORI Global Trends found that for 25- 34-year-olds, only 26 percent either strongly agreed or tended to agree with the statement “When I shop, I always try to buy branded products.” A whopping 66 percent said they strongly or tended to disagree with that statement.

For advisors who are still on the social media fence, another finding about millennials may cause you to leap off the fence feet-first. When asked in an Association of National Advertisers study whether “When a brand uses social media, I like that brand more,” 34 percent of millennials said yes, while only 16 percent of those 35 and over agreed.

See also: Why social media is too important to ignore

What do they consider when buying? A 2012 AIMIA Inc. survey found that millennials were more sensitive to a product or service’s cost. When asked, “What factors make you loyal to a brand?” 33 percent of millennials said price (compared with 27 percent of other age cohorts), while 55 percent said quality (compared with 59 percent of other cohorts). 

When asked, in a Prosper Insights & Analytics study, “Which online activities do you regularly do for fun and entertainment?” 50 percent of millennials said they play video games, compared with 27 percent of Gen Xers and 16 percent of boomers. Forty-five percent of millennials reported they use instant messaging or chat (10 percent for boomers), 44 percent download music or video (17 percent boomers) and 38 percent watch TV online, compared with 26 percent of Gen Xers and 18 percent of boomers.

When the Prosper survey asked, “After searching online, how do you communicate with others about a service, product or a brand?” 44 percent chose text messaging, 38 percent chose social media and 38 percent chose instant messaging (in perhaps a sign of the Web’s declining power among millennials, only 16 percent chose blogging).