Financial Marketers Must Truly Understand Millennial Nuances

Daniel P. Simon

Daniel P. Simon


Millennials: the generation known for spending all of their money on avocados and therefore never being able to buy homes. We laugh, roll our eyes, and sure, can point to at least one person we know who goes a little crazy at Whole Foods. But like any stereotype, there’s more here than what meets the Instagram-filtered eye—especially when it comes to their spending.

I had the opportunity to delve into the subject at the Gramercy Institute’s conference in Boston this spring. Let’s recap.

For starters, the “Millennial” demographic is massive both in size (they’re anticipated to outnumber Baby Boomers by 2019) and as a generational cohort. The U.S. Census Bureau defines them as anyone born between 1982 and 2002. We think of them as anyone born between 1982 and 1997. Whatever definition you use, that’s a pretty vast range.

Consider this: When the Great Recession hit, the youngest Millennials were just five or 10 years old. Meanwhile, the oldest Millennials were in their early 20s, graduating into a floundering economy and a saturated job market. From a financial standpoint, the recession shaped each individual very differently, and yet society buckets them all in the same generation.

This creates an inherent flaw in both how we perceive Millennials’ financial habits, but also how we, as marketers, speak to this demographic. So we at Vested did some digging.

Last year, Vested surveyed and interviewed more than 400 Millennials across a range of ages, genders, ethnicities and geographic regions about their financial choices. And given the massive disparity within the demographic, our findings pointed us in a different direction than those of previous studies. It unearthed Millennial nuances.

Take this stat: 71% of Millennials were unaffected—or affected at a minimum—by the financial crisis.

Taken in broad strokes, that sounds like a pretty sweeping statement. But our study—which broke up Millennials into three age brackets—found those between 18 and 22 years of age say the Great Recession did not impact them, while Millennials at the other end of the age bracket very greatly felt, and continue to feel, a negative impact. Those nuances matter.

It’s similarly important to consider these Millennial nuances and differences when looking at Millennial trust in financial institutions or other factors. For example, female Millennials are significantly less likely to use credit cards, but care far more about the perks that come with an account. Male Millennials are more than twice as likely to feel bullish about the economy, but also trust President Trump on the economy more than women.

As Millennials outgrow Boomers, they’ll very soon have the most buying power of any generation. For financial brands aiming to tap this market, understanding the complexity of the demographic is the only way to make informed decisions about which products and services will take off.

Let’s look briefly at apps like Venmo, Alfred or Stash. Younger Millennials—who we found to be less trusting of big banks and more trusting of tech—were the driving consumer power behind this type of fintech. Venmo, specifically, was dubbed “a social network in its own right,” by the LA times, due to the cheeky way users can send messages explaining each payment.

“Pizza is the No. 1 emoji on Venmo; beer is a close follow,” Josh Criscoe, a spokesman for Venmo, said in the story.

But what works for pizza-eating, beer-loving 20-somethings isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for the other end of the Millennial spectrum. Those with big-ticket expenses like mortgages or child care on the mind are likely less concerned with finding the right baby emoji than they are with securing payment plans that fit into their specific budget restraints. Say it with me: Millennial nuances.

Understanding the difference in needs between the two groups is key; and exactly what Vested prides itself on. We’ve had the opportunity to work with traditional institutions—banks, hedge funds, and wealth managers—and niche B2B financial technology platforms; but we’ve also worked with consumer fintech and alternative players. In all cases, successful campaigns are never about working harder; they’re about working smarter. That starts with understanding the target market.

Download a one-pager highlighting some of the data from our Millennial Money Study here. But don’t miss the Millennial nuances we highlight in the full study here.