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Fintech Through the Ages: The Guide to Engaging the Generations

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December 15, 2022 | Jonathan Pryer

When it comes to digital banking and fintechs, the story is often the same: Gen Z and Millennials prefer digital and mobile experiences, while Baby Boomers take a traditional, in-person approach; Gen X is somewhere in between. However, the pandemic accelerated financial service technology and adoption across all age groups. It’s no longer so simple to draw lines in the sand between generations.

That means it’s also become more difficult to engage the generations when trying to meet their financial needs. To reach each effectively, you need to understand their digital behavior, their relationships with FIs and fintechs, and what challenges they need help from financial service providers to address.

Before we dive in, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page. We’re using Pew Research’s generational breakdown:

  • Baby Boomers: born between 1946 – 1964, currently 58 – 76
  • Gen X: born between 1965 – 1980, currently 42 – 57
  • Millennials: born between 1981 – 1996, currently 26 – 41
  • Gen Z: born between 1997 – 2012, currently 10 – 25

Despite the almost 60-year age gap between the youngest and oldest financial services user, there’s a surprising amount of overlap. Digital payment penetration increased to 89% in 2022, and 88% of all consumers use fintech. A breakdown by age shows high adoption across the board.

Fintech’s presence in consumers’ lives is an undeniable fact, regardless of generation. Instead, behaviors start to diverge in the way users interact with their financial services providers to meet their different financial priorities. 

Read on for insights on each cohort and approaches some fintechs are taking to cater to their needs.

Baby Boomers (58+ years old)

Are Boomers Really Technophobes?

Boomers are in or approaching their retirement years and have benefitted from market conditions that supported sustained employment and wealth-building over the years. Their successful financial position is likely a contributing factor to their high trust in banks and credit unions: 83% trust their financial institutions

While the age group isn’t opposed to using technology, the important foundation of trust is still not solid. Even though 41% of Boomers are comfortable using tech companies for payments, 48% are uncomfortable using fintech for any financial service at all.

For Boomers, face-to-face relationships are important. Having in-person services available is important to more than half of them – 63% prefer to open a deposit account at a physical branch, and less than a third have opened a deposit account online.

What Are Boomers’ Financial Priorities?

Baby Boomers are at a stage where they are looking to protect their wealth for retirement and – at the older end of the spectrum – for their children’s inheritance. However, much of that wealth is in real estate. The Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies found that while this generation has a median of over $150k in retirement accounts, only $15k is available for emergencies. 

Ensuring a large enough nest egg is a top challenge facing Boomers. Almost half expect to work past retirement age or don’t plan to retire at all. Conserving the funds they have while continuing to add to them is essential, and may suggest why this generation also feels fraud and identity theft is a major concern. 

How Are Fintechs Meeting Boomers’ Needs?

Since Baby Boomers prefer to manage their money in-person with trusted financial institutions, some fintechs have chosen to address supplementary needs, meeting the cohort where they are, regardless of technical ability. These fintechs are exemplifying that tactic: 

  • Silvur
    • Silvur is tackling the complexity of retirement through a white-labeled platform that supports those aged 50+ to navigate and demystify the process through guides and data-driven calculators. Their goal is to ensure members are confident and prepared in their retirement. 
  • SilverBills
    • SilverBills uses proprietary software and personal support to help seniors manage their bills. Technophobe or just prefer the human touch? No problem: “SilverBills was specifically designed to benefit individuals who do not have or want to use computers. Clients have the choice to communicate by phone, email, or text and can send documents via mail, email, text, secure upload, or fax.”

Gen X (42 – 57 years old)

Did Someone Remember to Check on Gen X?

Often referred to as the “forgotten generation,” Gen X doesn’t make headlines the way the other generations do, but this group has a lot of financial power: the typical Gen X households are the highest earners and the highest spenders on consumer goods and services.

Despite their latchkey upbringing, Gen X is a trusting group – they trust their primary financial services providers to protect their money the most of any generation (91%). They trust financial advisors when it comes to their investments. And they trust fintechs and neobanks.

While Gen X prefers their FI to have physical branches, their willingness to dive into the digital has made mobile wallets and neobanks a popular choice for financial services. In fact, 71% have said they would consider banking with tech companies like Amazon – they’re not opposed to technology. After all, the generation includes visionary tech founders like Jack Dorsey (Twitter and Square), Larry Page and Sergey Brin (Google), and Jeff Bezos (Amazon).

What Are Gen X’s Financial Priorities?

Gen X are the highest earners of the generations, but they are also the generation in the most debt with an average amount of $136k in the red. The debt includes credit cards, mortgages, and student loans – this, along with retirement on the horizon, is a major stressor for Xers.

The generation worries about their ability to cover monthly expenses – and many can’t. The TIAA Institute found that they have the most difficulty paying off their loans each month. On top of that, a whopping 70% fear Social Security will not be available when they retire.

However, the generation will be on the receiving end of a “great wealth transfer,” expected as Boomers leave large inheritances to their children. Gen X is slated to receive 57% of an estimated $68.4 trillion in this transfer, and while the windfall will likely alleviate some of these financial stresses, it will undoubtedly bring about its own challenges as well. 

How Are Fintechs Meeting Gen X’s Needs?

It’s true that oftentimes Gen Xers are overlooked. But while there are not many fintechs catered specifically to Xers, there are many that address their financial management needs and hit their sweet spot of digital comfort. Like these two:

  • Tally
    • Tally is a fintech that’s giving debt consolidation a makeover. Focused on credit card debt, the app pays off your high-interest credit cards and consolidates them into a single monthly payment with a single APR. You can even set up autopay to help you stay on track.  
  • Venmo
    • While the prominent P2P payments app is not targeted specifically toward Gen X, it was 9th on Morning Consult’s list of fastest-growing brands for Gen Xers in 2021. When surveyed by Pew Research Center, roughly 50% of the age group had used the app, with even more reporting use of PayPal, its parent company. 

Millennials (26 – 41 years old)

How Do Millennials Buy Their Avocado Toast?

Raised in the ‘80s and ‘90s, Millennials largely grew up alongside the rise of the Internet and digital experiences. It’s no surprise that they prefer to consume their financial services the same way. The generation wants convenient, omnichannel digital experiences they can access quickly.

Having a bank branch is not a priority – FIS’s PACE survey found that 65% of Millennials surveyed hadn’t visited a branch a single time in the past month. Meanwhile, three-quarters of the population bank through a mobile app and would consider switching banks to have a better mobile experience. Almost 80% have opened deposit accounts online.

In a recent survey, 81% of Millennials reported anxiety around making phone calls. So, when it comes to financial advice, cutting the human element out can be appealing – 84% of the generation would be comfortable getting advice via AI, while only 33% would consider working with their bank to do so.

Millennials are also open to emerging digital financial experiences – 55% say they are likely to make a purchase through social media and 24% (the highest of any generation) would use banking services in the metaverse. 

What Are Millennials’ Financial Priorities?

Millennials have been hit with financial crisis after financial crisis, and as a result have become more cautious when it comes to money management. Recent economic downturn and high cost of living have made managing finances more difficult: the ability to pay monthly bills is a concern of 47% of the generation who say they live paycheck to paycheck

Three quarters of Millennials are stressed about their finances and 60% have partial or little confidence in planning and achieving their goals. However, they’re investing in their financial education, largely with the help of fintechs, and preparing for volatilities in the market. And still buying avocado toast.

How Are Fintechs Meeting Millennials’ Needs?

The fintechs that draw large Millennial user bases tap into the need for education, conservative risk appetites, and digitally native DNA. These disruptive fintechs have Millennial engagement down pat: 

  • Acorns
    • Acorns was one of the first micro-investing apps created, specifically with cash-strapped, investment-wary Millennials in mind. When you make a purchase, Acorns rounds up to the nearest dollar and invests the spare change in ETFs. You can also choose to invest in IRAs, or take advantage of online banking capabilities. 
  • Klarna
    • One of the biggest names in BNPL, Klarna took off during the pandemic, attracting young consumers who want to spend but don’t want to use loan products with interest. While the BNPL model can support a Millennial’s lifestyle, Klarna also offers a highly-desired omnichannel experience and champions values like sustainability and diversity that resonate with the generation.

Gen Z (10 – 25 years old)

Is Digital-Native Gen Z Digital Only?

The youngest generation of the bunch, Gen Z has made a name for themselves as the first fully digital natives. They don’t remember a time before the Internet and as a result are highly mobile-centric consumers looking for 24/7 support. The members of this generation have the widest variance in life stage – the oldest are 25 and fully entrenched in the workforce, while the youngest are in elementary school. While we’re focusing on those 18 and older, Gen Z is still early in their financial journey.

As a result, this generation is very interested in building financial literacy. The rise of “fintok” – financial TikTok – is bolstered by Gen Z’s desire for financial education. TikTok has become such a personal finance hotspot that 34% of the cohort seek out the social media platform for tips and advice. Only 17% say they have learned about the subject in school.

Gen Z is committed to their financial health and understands its importance: 68% would rather hire a financial advisor rather than a personal trainer if the services cost the same. As avid BNPL users, they are wary of paying interests on loans and are the least likely of any generation to use credit cards, despite their short or nonexistent credit histories. Almost half have begun to budget throughout the year to secure their financial standing against recent inflation.

What Are Gen Z’s Financial Priorities?

Economic challenges have created a difficult economic environment for Gen Zers, who are already saddled with an average of $20k in student loan debt. In addition to student loans, many Zoomers experienced significant hits or depletion of their savings during the pandemic. These setbacks make significant financial milestones like home ownership feel unattainable for many in the generation. 

And that financial education they’re so keen on? It’s sorely needed. The TIAA Institute’s report found that more than 65% of Gen Z did not know over half of the answers to general financial literacy questions. While their instinct to seek out knowledge is correct, experts also worry that their sources of information, like TikTok, could be misleading. 

Whether due to age, misinformation, or lack of knowledge, Gen Z has complex financial challenges to overcome, including building emergency funds, saving for retirement, and investing. 

How Are Fintechs Meeting Gen Z’s Needs?

Money management can be a bore, and even though Gen Z is generally interested in getting their finances under control, fintechs targeting Zoomers are making sure it’s a fun and engaging process. These apps are doing it so well, they should be called funtechs:

  • Cleo
    • Part lender, part financial advisor, part money manager, and part sassy chat bot, Cleo is “a money app that doesn’t suck.” An engaging, playful brand? Check. Capabilities that meet Gen Z’s evolving needs? Check. This app has it all, including a roast mode, in which the snarky AI bot “roasts” your recent purchases. This is a unique take on fintech and actually makes money management fun.
  • Step
    • Self-described as “banking for the next generation,” Step is the “it” financial app supporting Gen Z teens. With the generation’s desire for financial education at the center and the ability for minors to build their credit with a special spending card, the platform makes finances accessible and understandable. It doesn’t hurt that TikTok’s biggest star, Charli D’Amelio, is a brand partner.

You Can Meet the Needs of Each Generation

Regardless of age, financial services consumers all want to protect and grow their wealth, whether there’s a lot or a little. The distinction between fintech and traditional FI will likely blur more over time, as technology helps both sectors improve their products and customer experience. Ultimately, a hybrid economy that caters to individual preferences with both physical or digital support only serves to provide more options for money management, and that’s a good thing. 

Curious how to tap into the hybrid economy? Do you struggle to personalize products and offers for your customers? Are you looking for ways to expand your reach to new demographics without increasing your risk of fraud? A simplified data strategy can help your fintech meet the needs of each generation with on-demand data.

Check out the infographic to learn more