Decision-Making Across Generations

Decision-Making Across Generations

Pay attention to the generational details, keep it simple, and you’ll improve your affluent client acquisition numbers at every stage of the life-cycle.

A prospect’s age is one of the most obvious indicators of generational differences in attitudes and behaviors – decision making.  Learning how to recognize and account for these indicators is akin to being able to “read the tea leaves” and more accurately predict the outcome.

This isn’t as complex as it might appear at first glance.  Essentially it involves an individual place in the life cycle (Millennial young adult, Gen Xer, Baby Boomer, Senior) and their corresponding cohort grouping.  According to the Pew Research Center “Age cohorts give researchers a tool to analyze changes in views over time; they can provide a way to understand how the different formative experiences interact with the life-cycle and aging process to shape people’s views of the world.”

For our purposes, we’re going to focus our attention on how they make major decisions.  Yes, hiring a financial advisor to oversee their financial affairs throughout their life-cycle is a major decision.  So first, let’s take a look at the households earning $100,000 or more.  As you can see illustrated below, 55 percent of these households are Millennials and Gen Xers.

The basic school of sales training approaches affluent consumers as a high-dollar niche to be treated with kid gloves.  The focus is predominately on product knowledge (your financial planning process, investment philosophy, etc.) – the basic recitation of the proverbial features and benefits.  You know, “My planning process is better because…”  Unfortunately, this is the extent of most affluent sales training, which in itself is wrong, plus it’s a “group think” approach centered around assets not stage in the life-cycle.

We know that you’re well aware how nothing highlights generational differences more clearly than technology.  Spend time with a Millennial and you’re likely to witness smart phone research before and during the shopping experience.  In our 2015 Affluent Investor study, we found that 42% of Millennials have found a service provider through social media, compared to 14% of today’s Boomers and 43% “always” research medical issues online before contacting a physician.  When it comes to conducting background checks on a financial advisor before signing the paperwork , 70% of Millennials and 64% of Boomers are doing so.

Because the digital world is in our DNA (yes, we’re on the older end of the Millennial generation), there are certain things to keep in mind.

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As much as these differences stand out, equally important are generational similarities.  As decisions involve more finances, younger generations become eerily similar to their Boomer / Senior brethren.  Don’t think that younger people never solicit opinions of people they trust and respect – they do.  They also value high-level professionalism and a depth and breadth industry knowledge.  Also, credentials (CFP, MBA, etc.) are very important to them.  

Don’t take this as a one-size fits all approach to marketing.  The idea is to be able to blend the differences and similarities into your approach.  It’s still all about relationship marketing, regardless of what stage of their life-cycle an affluent prospect is in.

This is all about being able to adapt your communication to the generation of each specific individual you’re targeting.  There’s tremendous opportunity for financial advisors in the Millennial generation; only 1% say they will never use a financial advisor and the majority, 61%,  think they need one when their assets are between $50K and $250K – that’s quite a range.

Pay attention to the generational details, keep it simple, and you’ll improve your affluent client acquisition numbers at every stage of the life-cycle.


Stephen Boswell is the COO for The Oechsli Institute and author of Best Practices of Elite AdvisorsKevin Nichols is the Director of Coaching for The Oechsli Institute and author of The Indispensable LinkedIn Sales Guide for Financial Advisors


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