Gen Z and Money: Here’s How Banks are Adapting to the Next Generation of Connected Consumers



Google already holds your online identity, your passwords, your email, and your shopping preferences. So how would you feel about them handling your money? 

Google’s banking (no pun intended) on the fact that you’ll be as happy handing over your cash as you are your online profile, launching a program to offer checking accounts to customers in 2020. And judging from the way Millennials and Gen Zers feel about traditional banks, they’re probably making a safe bet. 

A growing distrust 

I’ve been writing and speaking about Gen Z for several years now. From how they work, to how they shop, to how they lead, the way that Gen Zers (similar to Millennials) interact with the institutions that surround them is markedly different from previous generations.

This has caused a lot of confusion among the brands that are trying to market to them—to Gen Z in particular, and to the connected consumer in general

In fact, it was because I kept confronting this confusion over and over that my agency, Zen Media, undertook research aimed at better understanding the connected consumer (which includes Gen Z)  in order to clarify this confusion and provide a working roadmap for navigating the modern purchase journey. 

We spoke to Millennials and Gen Zers in the course of our research, and across the board, they expected authenticity, transparency, and personalization from not only the brand itself but also from every touchpoint related to it. 

And while some industries like retail and dining seem to be getting the memo, when it comes to the banking industry, traditional institutions generally aren’t adapting to the connected consumer’s needs. 

Millennials and Gen Z experienced the Great Recession in early adulthood or late childhood, respectively—and both groups have come out of that with a distrust of traditional banking institutions. According to CNBC, in 2017 45.3 percent of respondents to WEF’s Global Shapers Survey said they “disagree” with the statement that they trust banks to be fair and honest.

For whatever reasons, banks haven’t been swift enough or effective enough to address these concerns. While some are offering more up-to-date perks like debit cards in a matter of minutes and the ability to open accounts online, too many are sticking to business as usual. And that’s only going to lose them their potential Gen Z customer base.

It’s also how tech companies like Google and Apple are able to disrupt the industry so successfully. 

So what can banks do to keep themselves from losing these demographics to the tech companies for good? 

Here’s where to start. 

Embrace transparency first and foremost. 

Connected consumers expect honesty and transparency first and foremost, so it’s no surprise that they don’t take kindly to hidden fees, baits-and-switches, or any of the other tactics banks have put into practice over the years in order to increase their profits. 

After they saw the big banks foreclose on homes and found themselves stuck with mountains of student debt, it makes sense that these generations aren’t enthusiastic about having a relationship with them. 

In fact, in a study by Viacom Media, 53 percent of the Millennials who were surveyed said they didn’t think their bank offered anything different than a competing bank. 71 percent said they would rather visit the dentist than hear what banks have to say, while 73 percent would rather handle their financial services needs with Google, Amazon, Apple, PayPal or Square than from their own nationwide bank. 

Banks that are upfront about their fees (or better yet, don’t have fees at all), and that maintain openness and transparency in the face of scandal—as Wells Fargo so blatantly failed to do in their recent fake account scandal—will be much more likely to attract Gen Z and Millennial customers. 

Adapt services to Gen Z’s expectations: always on, always available, and never pushy.

Gen Zers are digital natives. They’ve grown up in a commercial landscape that includes 24-hour chatbots, omnichannel customer service, and instant money transfers via apps like Venmo and Paypal. 

Banks that are rethinking what a bank has to look like and what it needs to offer are going to be the ones that win. 

Global financial services provider Chase, for example, is adapting to Gen Z with its Chase for Business BizMobile (which my agency helped to conceptualize and execute). This small-business advice center on wheels offers small business owners the chance to sit down face-to-face with Zen’s marketing experts for free consultations, giving them the opportunity to ask the questions that are keeping them up at night and directly affecting their business. They can also browse Chase for Business’s financial product and service offerings independently on tablets, or speak with one of Chase’s financial experts if they’re interested. 

Similarly, Capital One recently opened a string of “Capital One Cafes”—physical bank branches that are designed as cafes first, with coffee, pastries, wifi, and fee-free ATMs. They also offer iPads loaded with quick personal finance lessons, as well as on-site bankers and financial experts who are available to discuss personal finance topics. 

Other banks are offering expanded hours on nights and weekends, waiving ATM fees, and increasing their mobile offerings, like mobile check deposit, to retain and attract Gen Z.

Traditional banks don’t need to go the way of the dinosaur, but if they are to survive, they will have to drastically rethink how they do business. Focusing on trust, transparency, and creativity is the only way these institutions will be able to compete with the big tech players in the next five to 10 years.


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