When you hear the word “Millennial” what’s the first thing that comes to mind?
Perhaps it’s one of those stereotypes that we’re all well-acquainted with by now: entitled, tech-savvy, urban-dwelling, job-hopping, just to name a few.
These generalizations shape the popular perception of Millennials, who are often depicted as this large, monolithic group that’s generally in the same phase of life – give or take a few years, of course. But look beyond the surface and you’ll notice there is a pretty significant life-stage gap within the Millennial generation – which was born between the early 1980s and mid-1990s.
This means that as an advisor, you’ll be having two very different conversations with Millennials about personal finance and investing, depending on which life stage they’re in.
Older Millennials are now achieving many of the milestones that we associate with successful adulthood. Already in their mid-to-late 30s, they’ve established careers and have at least a decade of work experience under their belts. They’re getting married, having children, buying houses and moving out to the suburbs.1 Maybe they’re skipping out on the minivans that were so popular with their parents’ generation, but they’re now buying large SUVs to shepherd their young families around.
Perhaps most importantly to you as an advisor, older Millennials are beginning to accumulate investable assets, and they still have many high-producing years ahead of them.
Now, contrast this group to younger Millennials who are now graduating from college and entering the workforce. They’re still establishing themselves as independent adults and are beginning to lay the groundwork for achieving the milestones that their older peers have already reached.
Younger Millennials haven’t accumulated much, if any, wealth at this stage. Many of them still need to learn the basics about personal finance and investing, but they still have the most important resource of all on their side – time.
Older Millennials: The “Flip Phone” generation
In addition to recognizing the life-stage gap between older and younger Millennials, it’s also important for advisors to take note of the subtle cultural differences between the two, which were driven by technology, and the global financial crisis of 2007-2008.
Older Millennials are the “Flip Phone” generation. They grew up with cellphones, but came of age well before the rise of social media. This group still remembers what it was like to actually make phone calls to coordinate with friends. The two key events of their early adult years were 9/11, and the bursting of the tech double, which primarily hurt the investor class.
They began their adult lives with a set of expectations that included a decent job and a relatively steady economy. But they were forced to adjust this mindset when the global markets crashed.
Unlike the tech wreck, the global financial crisis hurt everyone, rippling beyond the investor class to touch every aspect of our society. Older Millennials were suddenly forced to reckon with the reality that no one is guaranteed a decent-paying job and that the markets can be a very volatile place.
As a result, many older Millennials became broadly more conservative in their approach to saving and investing than their parents were. In fact, research shows that when it comes to finances, they have a lot more in common with the Depression-era Silent Generation than they do with Generation X or the Baby Boomers.
Younger Millennials: The iPhone Generation
Younger Millennials grew up with smartphones and social media. For more than half their lives, all of the world’s accumulated knowledge has been at their fingertips, just a few clicks away. They came of age at a time when information could spread around the world and back at warp speed.
This subset of Millennials experienced the global financial crisis as high school and college students. They witnessed their parents and friends’ parents get laid off. Unlike their older peers who had to adjust their mindset midstream, younger Millennials entered adulthood knowing what to expect. The uncertainty of our world and the capital markets is all they’ve known.
Although they’re saddled with more student loan debt than every generation before them, younger Millennials have taken a bolder approach to the post-crisis world. They’ve embraced the gig and sharing economy, and live for experiences. They’re open about what they share on social media, which carries its own set of risks.
But this generation also has a sophisticated understanding of something we all must learn to live with: ambiguity.
How to Approach Conversations with Older and Younger Millennials
As you work to engage the next generation of investors it’s important to understand that there is a significant life-stage gap within the Millennial population. A conversation with an investor who’s in their mid-to-late 30s is naturally going to be very different than one with someone who just landed their first job post-college.
This natural difference is exacerbated when you take the global financial crisis into account and realize that older Millennials may be a little more conservative in their approach, while younger Millennials exhibit signs of being willing to live with uncertainty.
Although Millennials are often characterized as a singular group, there are some cultural differences between the youngest and oldest members of this generation. As you do with your Baby Boomer and Generation X clients, take the time to probe beneath the surface and meet these young people where they’re at.
This is the latest installment in our monthly series about issues facing high-net-worth families and their advisors. To learn more about what HNW Millennials want from their advisor, view our Coming of Age study.
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These views represent the opinions of the portfolio manager at OppenheimerFunds, Inc. and are not intended as investment advice or to predict or depict the performance of any investment. These views are as of the publication date, and are subject to change based on subsequent developments.