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Millennials: Who Are They and What Do They Want?

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In his classic guide, “The Gen-Savvy Advisor: Advising the Generations in the New Age of Uncertainty” (now in a new edition), Cam Marston of Generational Insights points out that the cohort born between 1981 and 1997 grew up “protected, praised and programmed by their parents.” After graduating from college at a rate surpassing all previous generations (including Mom and Dad’s), they tend to consider themselves smart consumers, adept at Googling whatever they want to know.

Raised to view folks of their parents’ and grandparents’ age as their equals, they can be startlingly outspoken with gray-haired superiors. Wondrously tech-savvy, they’re also connection-obsessed, so you shouldn’t take it personally when they text their friends while talking to you. If you’re the one being texted, they expect a prompt reply. Older advisors (or bosses) will find them impatient and unhappy with waiting for things that could be done more quickly.

(Related: Optimizing Your (Online) First Impression)

Kol Birke, a senior vice president and financial behavior specialist at Commonwealth Financial Network, believes that many brash-seeming millennials with nonconformist work habits are simply seeking a better quality of life. “A common myth is that this is a lazy, entitled, self-absorbed, feedback-needing generation,” he said. “I think much of that comes from millennials being brave about asking for a world we might all enjoy, such as flexibility in where and when they work.”

At heart, then, what they want isn’t so unusual. “In many ways, the millennials are like the generations who have come before them,” says Angie Herbers, advisor consultant and IA columnist. “They want to be able to provide for their families. They want to achieve their personal goals. They want to have stability in their financial situation. They want personal interaction and customization.”

So far, so good. But as more millennials develop their individual money lives, it’s apparent that many — perhaps most — hesitate to seek professional advice. Trying to reach out to them is tricky because they’re so deeply embedded in the online bazaar and social interchanges they invented.

Trying to Teach a New Dog Old Tricks?

Have you been hoping that a millennial or Generation X advisor would take over your business when you retire, but you can’t find anyone willing to buckle down and work as hard you do?

Heed this advice from Deena Katz, a CFP, wealth manager and teacher of aspiring financial planners at Texas Tech University. “The younger generation [of planners] are not lazy. They do not lack a work ethic, but they do want to make their lives more efficient. They really believe in work-life balance. Family and community are very important, and they will not sacrifice them for a more financially rewarding but more time-consuming work experience.”

Investment Advisor columnist Angie Herbers, who works with advisors of all ages to develop customized growth strategies, goes a step further. If the younger advisor you’re grooming as a successor seems disenchanted and isn’t making progress in your firm, the problem may be you.

“The fundamental reason that you can’t find younger advisors who are ready to take over your practice is that you’re trying to teach them the same way you were taught,” she recently chided. “Now, imagine [that to] get current financial news, you had a radio on your desk, and to run your calculations they gave you a slide rule.” Her point is that educational tools and methods have changed dramatically in the past 20 years. (For her suggestions on better intergenerational understanding, see “Next-Gen Advisors Have a Boomer Problem” on

“The single biggest factor in determining your growth rate in the coming years,” Herbers concluded, “will be how quickly you learn to communicate to the next generation and transfer knowledge in a new way.”

— Read Clara Shih: How to ‘Work Smarter’ on Social Media on ThinkAdvisor.


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