Fine Points

Human, After All

By Camden Fine

So where are we all heading? Or to a more important point, what are we becoming? The answer lies in the upcoming generations.

Perhaps no group of people has been polled, probed and analyzed more by marketers and social researchers than today’s young adults. A lot has been said, overanalyzed and oversimplified about their values, attitudes, habits and aspirations. Much of this spotlight has shined on the so-called Generation Y, the second largest cohort and potentially the group with the greatest purchasing power since the all-pervading baby boomers. Those in the Gen Y tribe, now 19 to 36 years old, have or soon will come of age personally, professionally and financially. Today, they account for over $1 trillion of purchasing power annually, a figure that will grow exponentially.

Certainly, Gen Y’s technology-tethered upbringing has strongly shaped their expectations and mindsets. Having little to no recollection of life without the Internet or smartphones, this first mobile generation has adapted almost nonchalantly to warp-speed revolutionary advances. Without questioning, these young people expect, in addition to vast digital troves of free information, anytime access to entertainment, customer service and commerce.

Of course, all community bankers today understand that effectively adapting to and managing continually evolving technology—whether in deposit taking, lending or payments—is integral to their institution’s ongoing success. This is true for all customers, old and young, as it will be for those soon to follow.

Far from being a drag or a disadvantage, community bank technology is second to none. Community banks invest substantial effort, money and strategic thinking on technology and the future it’s creating. Our institutions have and will continue to access all the innovations necessary to win the business and loyalty of the next generations. However, what isn’t recognized enough is how the powerful combination of technology and the community bank relationship-based business model will best provide what the youngest consumers say they want.

For all their technological dependence, today’s young adults still crave and place tremendous value on strong individual relationships. Bombarded with slick media messages throughout their lives, corporate brands, logos and sloganeering don’t impress them much. They’ve been disillusioned quite enough by the marketing wizards flailing behind the curtain.

Instead, particularly in their biggest personal and professional matters, today’s young people, who hold strong aspirations to become entrepreneurs and small-business owners, express a deep desire to connect with real people whom they can trust to help them sort out the ever-increasing complexities of their lives.

That means, once again, that a whole new generation of consumers is primed to be loyal community bank customers. But primed does not necessarily mean enlisted. As they must for every generation, community banks still have to reach out concertedly, prominently and persistently to tell their story. That story, one that involves both amazing technology and relationship banking, may need to be told in new forms and forums, but it has never been more relevant or resonant.

Today’s newest and youngest consumers, far from the glib characterizations sometimes projected upon them, are not merely slavish drones of technology. Like our forefathers, like our sons and daughters, like us—they’re only human after all. And that’s of course the best news of all for our increasingly high-tech future.

Reach Camden R. Fine at cam.fine@icba.org.

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