Above all, the key to bridging the generation gap is sincerity.

Fifty-one years old. That’s the average age of financial advisors, according to Cerulli Associates, as reported by Forbes in 2017. In 2019, we can assume they added two years and are now 53. That’s the average. Many are older. The people you are socializing with at chamber events (and prospecting as clients) might be in their 20s and 30s. They are (gasp!) young people! How do you talk with them without coming across as “the fossil in the suit?”

This is also a problem at family gatherings like weddings and anniversaries. How can older advisors bridge the generation gap when talking with younger people?

What Not to Do

You’ve seen many, many people who make these mistakes. You want to hide your face because you are embarrassed for them.

  1. Dress slovenly. We aren’t even talking yet. Nothing creates a bad first impression more than an older person who has given up on shaving regularly, wears rumpled clothing and doesn’t comb their hair. It screams “I’ve given up.”
  2. Think you are still hot. When an older person notices an attractive younger member of the opposite sex, they sometimes think they are 30 years younger and behave that way. You may think its harmless flirting, they think it’s creepy. Creepy can quickly become harassment.
  3. Talk about vintage TV programs. Yes, you thought “Murder, She Wrote” and “Columbo” were the apex of good television. Yes, they have a following. That’s why they are so popular on those channels featuring reruns. They will think of you as someone living in the past.
  4. Start sentences with “When I was young… It implies you are going to explain how everyone was virtuous, hardworking and studious. The implied message is today’s young people are not. This won’t establish common ground.

6 Safe Subjects

You want some conversation topics that are timeless. Here are a few:

  1. Pro sports. “What’s your favorite team?” You likely have one too. You both know the players. You can discuss your team’s prospects in the current season. There are famous players everyone remembers, regardless of their age. Your only risk is if they aren’t into sports.
  2. Cars. You’ve heard “You are what you drive.” Everyone has favorite cars. They either own them or want to someday. Some people even go to the auto show when it comes into town. Find out what they drive. What do they like best about it? How does it do in bad weather? Where do you have it serviced? You hold up your side of the conversation.
  3. Travel. Everyone does it or dreams of doing it. Ask where they went on vacation or if they have one planned. Draw them out. You make conversation because you’ve either been there or you have never been. How did you choose that island? Would you go back? If you travel extensively, avoid flashing dollar signs by bragging about luxurious hotels or how you only fly first class.
  4. Colleges. “Where did you go to school?” In small towns, “school” means high school. It’s the credential that identifies you as a local, not a newcomer. Apparently you are allowed to go elsewhere for college. Once you have the common high school or college identified, talk about teachers. Is she still there? Ask about the building and athletic fields. Talk about the degree they earned. College sports can slip into the conversation too.
  5. Food. Everyone must eat. Ask about favorite restaurants. Share your own picks. You are traveling on business or to a nearby city. What do they know about restaurants there? Are they a beer fan or a wine fan? That open up a whole new avenue of conversation.
  6. Technology. The younger the person, the more its part of their lives. You have a smartphone. So do they. Do they own tech like an Apple watch or a Fitbit? Do they like it? Talk about apps you use. Do they have any recommendations?

3 Difficult Topics

Popular culture can be described as that category where the younger you are, the more you know. Radio stations playing ’70s and ‘80s music are popular for a reason. As we get older, we get comfortable with a genre. Here are three difficult areas:

  1. Music. You really need to be current. You haven’t set foot in a club in years.
  2. Television. Broadcast TV has been marginalized as Amazon and Netflix produce content only seen through them. Not everyone stops what they are doing to watch “60 Minutes” on CBS anymore. Maybe you don’t either. Again, you really need to be current.
  3. Movies. Again, it’s the “you really need to be current” scenario. If you are one of those people who has seen every movie nominated for an Oscar that year, you have a chance. Otherwise, you might get into that “I haven’t seen that one either” loop.

Despite all these hurdles, age doesn’t really matter if people sense you are sincere and don’t have an ulterior motive. Many older business people are successful because they make the effort to connect with younger people. If gives them a better understanding of trends and what the next generation is buying.

— More by Bryce Sanders on ThinkAdvisor:


Bryce SandersBryce Sanders is president of Perceptive Business Solutions Inc. He provides HNW client acquisition training for the financial services industry. His book, “Captivating the Wealthy Investor,” can be found on Amazon.