Every day, you help clients create and implement strategies designed to give them a secure and prosperous future. But are you taking the time to form a plan to ensure the future growth and success of your practice? Or are you so focused on serving investors who have already accumulated wealth that you are ignoring a generation with tremendous potential to acquire wealth?
“Over 75 million strong, millennials, ages 19 to 35, are the largest living generation and the future of the advisory business,” said Jeff Sietstra, BFA™, senior business consultant in Securities America’s practice management department. “The idea that Gen Y, as they are also known, doesn’t have any money is a myth.”
Yes, the most educated generation is saddled with excessive college loans and were adversely affected by the recession and ensuing slow economic growth. But high-skill managerial and specialized jobs have grown the fastest during the economic recovery. As a result, many of these young professionals now have great jobs, large incomes and significant growth potential.1 In fact, research gathered by Putnam Investments found 15 million have already accumulated over $100,000.2
Not only do they have the education and opportunities to excel financially, they, along with their Gen X cohorts, will be the recipients of the largest intergenerational wealth transfer in history. Over the next several decades, baby boomers will pass roughly $30 trillion in assets on to their Gen X and Gen Y children and grandchildren.3
Grasping some characteristics of clients in this demographic will help you connect with them more effectively.
“Although everyone needs financial education,” said Nick Vail, CRPC®, with Integrity Wealth Advisors in Indianapolis, Indiana, “millennials feel less embarrassed admitting it. Naturally inquisitive, my younger clients ask me to explain their work benefits, how health savings accounts work, if they should get the life insurance their employer offers or if what they read about Roth IRAs is true.”
Michael Cammarata, CFP®, with Marino, Stram & Associates in Braintree, Massachusetts, agreed.
“Synergy matters to millennials,” he said. “Instead of a father figure telling them what to do, they want to work together. When I meet millennials, I sit around a table with them instead of behind a desk and use an evidence-based approach, explaining why I recommend something. After our initial meeting, these technology natives often prefer to connect through teleconference or screen share, even if they live three miles from my office.”
With company pensions a thing of the past and troubling doubts about Social Security’s future, millennials make up the most frugal generation since those who lived through the Great Depression. Along with their commitment to saving, Gen Y places a high premium on flexibility and freedom. They change jobs more frequently and wait longer to marry, buy homes and have children.
“While their parents and grandparents worried about stability,” Vail said, “millennials focus on lifestyles they hope to achieve or maintain.”
Connecting with clients’ children and grandchildren
“Advisors who merely hope to retain the next generation rarely do,” Sietstra said. “The worst time to meet clients’ children is in an emotionally charged environment at or after a funeral. According to different surveys, 70 to 90 percent of children fail to retain their parents’ advisor.”
Sietstra suggests thinking in terms of serving families, rather than individual clients or couples, from the beginning. For A-level clients, this could include hosting family meetings to encourage dialogues about clients’ accumulation of wealth and what they want done with those assets once they pass on. For B, C and D clients, he recommends advisors re-engage to verify beneficiaries and ask permission to reach out to them to offer holistic financial planning.
“The new trend is to serve as almost a personal CFO,” Sietstra said, “helping with things like budgeting, effective tax planning, selecting company benefits, rolling a 401(k) over or reviewing car and home insurance.”
Sean Buckley, CFP®, with Buckley Financial Planning in Liberty Township and Worthington, Ohio, implements this strategy by counseling adult children as an added value to his clients.
“For instance, I’ll talk to a 22-year-old about setting up a Roth,” he said, “or to teens about college – not just the costs, but what careers they want to pursue, possible internships and where they’d like to work. Most parents want their children to be successful professionally and financially, so they appreciate me for caring enough to provide solid life advice.”
Cammarata asks questions about relatives at client meetings and during estate planning.
“This creates a natural progression for parents to ask me to talk to a son or daughter who just got a new job and needs some advice,” he said.
Vail invites clients to bring their children to his events and plans to rent a theater soon and invite clients to bring their children and grandchildren to watch a family film.
Connecting with millennials directly
Although Gen Yers want and need financial education, advisors must break through incessant noise surrounding them. Bombarded by content across every medium, millennials in particular suffer from information overload.
Buckley stresses the importance of a simple, clean, up-to-date website with easy-to-access information. Along with creating a mobile friendly site, Vail recommends taking a personal, casual approach. The Integrity Wealth Advisors’ site features fun facts about its advisors and staff photos without jackets, and the advisors are creating a 60-second get-to-know-us video. Because millennials like to do things quickly, he has added a scheduling tool to the site, which allows visitors to schedule a 30-minute introductory phone conversation.
In addition to connecting with millennials related to existing clients, Vail maintains a financial blog and is active on social media, sharing four to five informational pieces a month. The exposure he’s gained when friends like or share his post has led to referrals.
Cammarata has tapped into the generation’s entrepreneurial bent, setting up 401(k) plans for several startups.
While millennials are accustomed to doing research online, Cammarata notes the amount of conflicting information when it comes to finances and investing makes them turn to someone they trust for direction. Google and robo platforms don’t provide accountability, ask investors what they want to know, help them make wise decisions or encourage them to stay the course during market fluctuations.
One of the challenges of working with millennials who have less assets is making it work financially. Rather than a percentage fee based on AUM, Vail does initial financial plans for $600 and provides ongoing planning and consultation services for $500 a year.
“Most millennials find this reasonable since they pay that for their gym membership,” he said.
Noting how important transparency is to millennials, Buckley lays out a track for the next 20-30 years.
“I have young, up-and-coming executives pay a flat project fee, explaining I typically charge an AUM fee, which we can move to when they’ve grown to that level. I let them know I’m in their corner in the meantime. I invite them to contact me if they have life events and call when they have questions. If we do another full review, it’s at an hourly rate,” he said.
Investing for future rewards
“Advisors who start working with millennials now may not harvest a big crop of fruit for the next 5-10 years,” Sietstra said, “but if they want to be in business for more than 10 years or to eventually sell their business, they should create a strategy to connect with them. It might start with offering to help clients’ children, providing great educational content through social media or seminars, seeking referrals from other professionals or bringing in a younger advisor to work with their peers.”
Whatever the plan, it’s wise to act soon. Advisors who wait to serve millennials when they’re in their 40s after their ship has landed will probably miss out to someone who went to the shore to meet it with them. The best time to capture their business is before they accumulate major assets.