Small-Business Smarts: Is lending to millennials all that different?

Millennial small-business owners share the same concerns as other generations, but education, technology and a friendly atmosphere can help your community bank stand out.

By William Atkinson

What does it take to create and build strong relationships with millennial business owners? Banks looking to connect with this demographic cohort must educate, offer technology and emphasize personal relationships. The hard work will be worth it.

“Millennials are now the driving force of the economy,” says Frank Sorrentino III, CEO of the $4.7 billion-asset ConnectOne Bank in Englewood Cliffs, N.J.

But just how different are millennials from business owners of other generations? “Everyone keeps trying to place millennials into a box, suggesting they are different from everyone else,” Sorrentino says. “I think they are more a product of their environment than anything. So, in that sense, they aren’t that much different from anyone else in their communities. Small-business owners in all generations just want to get the best that they can.”

Still, though, there are some differences. For one, millennials have a particularly strong need for information on how to run their businesses. According to a May 2017 report from America’s Small Business Development Centers and the Center for Generational Kinetics, “America’s Voice on Small Business,” more than 13 million millennials say the number-one thing keeping them from starting a business is not knowing how to run one. That same number believes the biggest barrier is not knowing where to go for help.

ConnectOne Bank wants to provide the answers. “Any time they have questions, they know they can call us,” Sorrentino says. “We run seminars, conferences and in-house training that are of value to business owners.”

Technology is also important. “People who know how to utilize all of the technology tools available today tend to be millennials,” Sorrentino says. “They grew up with it.”

Ken Stoner, business innovation coordinator for Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Ill., who helps people start small businesses, agrees. “I recently asked a group of 14 millennials what they consider most important when considering a bank,” he says. “They all agreed that their banks must have a strong online presence. Millennials operate at all hours and want their banks to do the same.”

Advice for community bankers? “Millennials need to know that banks are typically full of friendly people who want what is best for them, as well as their businesses,” Stoner says. “The millennials I have worked with wouldn’t jump ship over a slightly lower interest rate. Relationships are important to them, and they would rather work with someone they know than with a faceless corporate entity.”

Industry VOICE

William Atkinson, a longtime Independent Banker contributor, is an Illinois-based journalist specializing in banking and small-business issues.