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Expert View: How Community Banks and Credit Unions Can Cross the Generational Divide

Jason is considered one of the top Millennial researchers and banking strategists and has been featured on 60 Minutes, The Today Show, The Early Show and many other national programs. 

As Chief Strategy Officer at The Center for Generational Kinetics, Jason leads research and strategy for hundreds of clients including many banking institutions across America. You can check him out at and read his latest Millennials research findings at .

Banking and Millennials, are they really that different from other generations or are they just “young” still?

Millennials are definitely different than other generations when it comes to banking—and the challenge Millennials present to banking are only going to grow as their economic power grows. Millennials are a generation that fundamentally communicates differently than other generations, views money differently than other generations and is experiencing a life stage other generations did not: delayed adulthood. 

When it comes to borrowing, Millennials have more college debt than any previous generation and, at the same time, are getting married, having kids and buying homes at a later age. Combine the communication differences, life stage differences and a belief among Millennials that they can solve just about any need online, and it’s easy to see that banks have their work cut out to win this vast generation. 

Winning Millennials is particularly important as Boomers, the huge generation that has driven banking growth and profits for decades, moves into a different life stage where they are much less profitable for banks.

Millennials are as diverse as their baby boomer parents. How would you break down this group into banking technology categories/habits? 

That’s a tough question. One key insight that we discovered at The Center for Generational Kinetics is that Millennials are NOT tech savvy, but tech dependent. Millennials don’t necessarily know how technology works; they just know they cannot live without it! 

Millennials’ dependence on technology, particularly mobile technology, spans traditional economic, education and geographic strata. In general, when we are consulting with banks and credit union executives, we start by helping them solve the tech challenge Millennials bring to banking by answering “How simple can you make it so it just works?” Every step, button or click you add—even simply adding more options—can have a very negative affect on the user experience for Millennials. 

When it comes to Millennials and technology, they most prize ease of use, transparency, security and a fast response. To get a glimpse of what Millennials are thinking about banking, check out services such as Chime, Venmo and Affirm.

What’s most important to Millennials when it comes to their spending habits?

What is most important varies based on the price of what they’re buying and whether they expect an experience as part of the purchase or see it as purely transactional and commoditized. The more expensive—or intangible—the offering, the more Millennials want the experience to feel unique to them and for the brand or company to make them feel valued. 

It used to be that you could offer one-size-fits and at a good price and it sorted of worked, but Millennials have come of age with an expectation of uniqueness, instant gratification and access to a world of buying options on their phone—and now delivered right to them wherever they are located. Community banks and credit unions are well positioned to win Millennials IF they understand the Millennial mindset in the context of their own generation and then give value in the way Millennials want. 

Interestingly, our research shows that what Millennials want is often less expensive to give than many of the marketing or sales techniques banks currently use. I’ll be sharing the best actions banking leaders can take during my session.

You’ve said in your research that more Millennials want to meet the president of their local community bank versus the President of the United States. What does that really mean for community banks and credit unions that are trying to build stronger relationships with millennials? 

What it really means is that Millennials value people who can help them understand and solve their financial needs—especially funding for starting their own business—while providing a clear, tangible, true local connection. Millennials love local. Bringing to life your local connection is critical for credit unions and community banks if they want to win Millennials and outmaneuver larger competitors.  

What is the single most important piece of advice you have for community banks and credit unions when it comes to delivering the experience Millennials are looking for in a financial relationship?

The # 1 best way a community bank or credit union can attract, keep and build a relationship with Millennials is by making the relationship and offering feel “as unique as the Millennial.”

What do you think is one thing lost on the emphasis about Millennials as banking customers and the future of banking?

What is often overlooked or undervalued is that it’s not about Millennials in a vacuum, but that Millennials are now the leading indicator of what every generation is starting to want in a banking experience. As an example most of us can relate to: Millennials were the original generation on Facebook. Now Mom and Dad are all about Facebook so Millennials are leaving! 

Millennials were the group that was all about texting and now everyone is texting so Millennials have jumped to WhatsApp and similar. If you can win Millennials now you can win and keep every other generation, but if you don’t adapt to what Millennials want, than you risk losing the other generations you have as banking customers, too. 

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