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Straddling Generational Gaps

Success in our business is not determined by our own intelligence or ego – it’s about the connections we have with our clients and how well we serve them. As is the case in most service industries, we must tailor and vary our service models to provide our best work to the different demographics we serve.

While we must take care not to slip from generational analysis into ageist stereotyping or pigeon hole our clients into certain expectations, each group has distinct preferences for how they want to work with financial advisors, and we can use that knowledge to our advantage.

Baby Boomers

Advisors have a good pulse on the hopes, anxieties and goals of Baby Boomers after working with them for several decades. But in an era of ever-changing communication platforms, we must not leave Baby Boomers behind. The most critical piece of satisfying these clients is engaging with them offline. It’s very important that they see and hear you without a screen involved, so make time for regular phone calls and in-person meetings.

Many Baby Boomers do use Facebook, but primarily to keep up with friends and family. Do not mistake that for a willingness to embrace digital invites and other replacements for handheld items. If you want to invite them to workshops or events, mail them a physical invitation – and leave enough time for clients to receive these invites and, if needed, physically mail back an RSVP.

When you schedule phone calls and in-person meetings with these clients, be on time. Baby Boomers were usually raised by teachers and parents with high expectations of punctuality.

Generation X

Generation X often gets written off as a behavioral middle ground between Baby Boomers and Millennials, but their interactions with financial advisors are the most unique of all generations. Unlike their older counterparts, Gen Xers may go weeks or even months without so much as contacting their financial advisor. This makes sense – they are currently at the height of their careers and raising kids. Not to mention, they are regularly on the forefront of massive social changes – they’re busy.

When working with our Gen X clients, we must respond thoroughly and quickly when they do reach out, which means anticipating their questions in advance. Many of them prefer email and texting over phone calls, so take the extra time to ensure that what you’re typing out for them leaves as little room as possible for misinterpretation or missing context. Like the Millennials who follow them, Gen Xers are attuned to conducting their own research on topics they may not know much about beforehand. They will often want to bounce their new ideas off of us, and appreciate when we show interest and real thought in our responses without waiting for a face-to-face meeting. For most of these clients, let them take the lead in conversations and act as more of a mentor that’s keeping them on track when they check in.

Millennials and Gen Z

Millennials seem to exist in our societal narrative as permanent college students or ungrateful teenagers, but in reality, the oldest members of this generation will turn 40 next year and Generation Z is starting to graduate college. Their communication preferences are still evolving, so be prepared to follow them across different apps and mediums. Currently, Instagram is taking a larger role in their lives, while texting is dependable across trends. In-person meetings are seen as time-consuming and inconvenient, but most Millennials are happy to use video-calling services like Skype, Zoom or FaceTime. As your Millennial clients grow into their careers, marriage and parenthood, though, check in to see if their communication needs change due to increasing demands on their time.

No matter what app is currently in vogue, Millennials want to be remembered and made to feel important. Think about how you can consistently remind these clients that they are your priority. Reach out to them on their birthdays and anniversaries, and congratulate them on achievements like buying a house or getting their master’s degree. Some Millennial clients may see you as somewhat of a life coach, and they will appreciate any encouragement you can give them.

The oldest members of Generation Z have just started graduating college. While it will take years to get a true pulse of their habits and preferences, early signs suggest that they are even more digitally-inclined than Millennials but may potentially have a more entrepreneurial outlook on life. When you invite Gen Z prospects to your office, make sure you don’t default to treating them like a Millennial, and get ready to create another generational service model.

Meeting clients’ unspoken and assumed communication expectations is crucial to keeping their business. Tune your service model to generational and other habits of your clients, and you’ll set both them and yourself up for greater success.

About The Author

Tim Clairmont CFP, MSFS, is the founder and CEO of Clear Financial Partners, Inc., a holistic financial planning firm in the Portland, Oregon, suburb of Lake Oswego and has served clients as a financial advisor for over two decades. Tim is a nine-year member of MDRT and an eight-year Top of the Table member. He has written two best-selling books--Passionate Ambivalence: How to Sell with Authenticity and Integrity and What Should I Do With My 401k? Should I Buy an Annuity? Tim has launched a national education initiative called the ClearFP Advisor Program™ focused on sharing the intellectual property, strategies and systems that Tim has developed with other like-minded financial advisors across the country. Tim has also launched a free mobile app, ClearFP: Clock, to educate the general public and help them create their own financial plans.

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