There’s a clear distinction among the messages that different generations like to hear, according to Angie Herbers, founder of Angie Herbers LLC. “Baby boomers like straight talk. Millennials like messages that make them feel in motion. Gen X like messages that give them meaning.
“Finding meaning is the best way to overcome indifference,” she continued. “To get them out of indifference and to care more about money, you have to ask them, ‘What does money mean to you?’ Unlike millennials who find meaning in social causes and baby boomers who made money their meaning, Gen X needs help finding the meaning for their money.”
So how should you proceed in attracting Gen X prospects and serving Gen X clients? Our experts and our own experience suggest you:
- Respect their responsibilities. Nearly half of this generation are still supporting adult children, while another 21% are helping parents. Nearly one out of six Gen Xers (15%) are sandwiched between older and younger family members who need help.
- Don’t resent their lack of deference. Yes, you have professional credentials and considerable advisory experience. But Gen Xers, growing up self-reliant in two-earner families, resist deferring to authority — especially if it’s someone whose expertise they don’t yet trust. Don’t take their blunt questions (“Why do you want to sell me this?”) personally, cautions generational expert and consultant Cam Marston.
- Be authentic. “If you try to sound younger than you are, it comes out phony,” advises Marston. “Don’t use terms that don’t feel right.”
- Be transparent on your website. Michael Kitces, director of wealth management at Pinnacle Advisory Group, urges, “You need to be professional, consistent, and explain what you can do for them. Post what your charges are and how you’re compensated.” Don’t hype yourself or your products. Knowledge-craving Gen Xers will refer to other unbiased resources to check your claims.
- Engage them in finding solutions. “Don’t just ask them questions and come back with the answer in a black box,” Kol Birke of Commonwealth Financial counsels. “Although Gen Xers don’t necessarily want to be overwhelmed with details, they often want to be part of the process.” With unlimited information on hand and less blind trust in authorities than their boomer parents, Xers who decide to grapple with their financial situation want to be actively involved in determining solutions.
- Offer them choices. If you give Xers a single solution, Marston points out in “The Gen-Savvy Advisor,” they may suspect that you either offer the same thing as everyone or will earn a commission for selling it. By the same token, offer a Plan B in case Plan A doesn’t work out. Xers are sadly familiar with trampled hopes.
- Own your fiduciary responsibility. After all, it’s a fundamental reason for your trustworthiness.
- Focus on life needs. Advisors need to encourage Gen X to think beyond the short term to longer-term life goals. Xers are more open to paying for this kind of advice than for someone to manage their assets.
- Ask satisfied clients if they’re willing to be references. Peer testimonials can be extremely powerful, as Marston points out.
- Have a succession plan. Birke says, “One practical thing to remember about this generation is that statistically they have a lot of years left. Your succession plan can give them confidence that they will get the service they want for as long as they need it.”
— Look for “Thinking Gen X: An Overdue Look at an Overlooked Generation” in the June issue of Investment Advisor and see the entire series on the Thinking Generations home page.