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Be A Gen Savvy Planner: Take Off Your Generational Lenses

Our early environments shape us for the rest of our lives.

That’s why there is so much difference between the generations, said Cam Marston, an expert on generational change and founder of Generational Insights.

Marston told FPA Retreat attendees in April that baby boomers are tough and were never told they were unique or special, so they overcompensated by telling their kids—who are Gen-Xers and millennials—that they were extra special. Therefore, those two generations were raised to think they were unique and that their needs were very important.

“What imprints on younger people impacts them for the rest of their lives,” Marston said. “Millennials and Gen-X have been brought up to say, ‘What’s going to make me happy?’

Planners should understand the vast differences between the generations and know how to talk to and communicate with each one.

Boomers. To connect with the boomer, Marston said, you need to understand how they see the world. They’re hardworking and they have the mentality that retirement is going to be great. They want to hear your story and know where you come from.

Hanging up your diplomas or certificates in your office during your meetings with boomers is a good idea.

Key points about boomers:

1.) Understand and acknowledge their work ethic—which they generally measure in hours (i.e., “I work 50-60 hours a week”).

2.) Ask them about their accomplishments and acknowledge what they’ve done.

3.) Communicate that you are on the same page. Emphasize that you are a team.

5.) Pick up the phone and call them and meet with them in person.

6.) Beware of too much technology.

7.) Know the difference between “leading” baby boomers (older than 62 and like communication that emphasizes how they deserve retirement); and “trailing” baby boomers (ages 53-61 and need to be reassured that they’re going to be OK despite setbacks they experienced in retirement savings thanks to the recession).

Gen-Xers. This generation are stalkers of product and services. They demand to be an educated consumer and are leery of “being had,” Marston said. They are interested in how well you can teach them to make a good decision. Your relationship should be a partnership.

Key points about Gen-Xers:

1.) They are going to do research and have you prove why your advice is better than what they found via this research.

2.) They tend to prefer email and your communication should be brief, succinct and to the point.

3.) Don’t waste your time leaving them voicemails.

4.) Make sure your web presence is pristine—they’ll look you up online before contacting you.

5.) The Gen-X mother has tremendous buying power and influence. She’s coming up in terms of her earning, she’s informed and she’s fully engaged. Keep her happy.

6.) Communicate how decisions will affect them personally.

Millennials. Millennials are individuals with a group orientation. They believe they’re unique but they also enjoy being part of a group.

Millennials think, “You tell me about me and what’s going to happen and how I’m going to feel about it,” Marston said.

Key points about millennials:

1.) They’re optimistic.

2.) You will get more attendance from them if you ask them to bring people. Engage them as a group and they will be more interested.

3.) They feel they are unique and special.

4.) They don’t think so much in the long-term as the other generations.

5.) They are achieving milestones (i.e., getting married, buying houses, having kids) later in life than the previous generations.

6.) Communicate via text messages and social media.

Understand these key points about each generation and try to see the world through their eyes when you’re talking to them.

“Everybody pitches and articulates their value from their own generational lense,” Marston said, “but I’ve got to take my lenses off and put on somebody else’s.”

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Ana Trujillo Limón is associate editor of the Journal of Financial Planning and the editor of the FPA Practice Management Blog. Email her at alimon@onefpa.org