Slashers, digital natives and post-millennials are among the labels that attempt to define the generation of people commonly dubbed Generation ‘Z’ who were born around the turn of the century. Inevitably these names turn into caricatures of a generation that actually defies labels and is particularly enigmatic.
These future savers and investors are marked by a series of crises which makes them cautious when it comes to information and consumption. They foreshadow a world that will have to learn the lessons of the past and be more compassionate.
The world can be divided in a thousand different ways. The world can be divided into nations, but also into religions or civilisations. It can certainly be divided into professions. But it can also be divided into generations. And obviously each generation brings something that the previous generation did not. And strangely, there are extraordinary relationships between everyone from the same generation. Jean Renoir
A look ahead to the major trends of the upcoming years and their impact on the financial and economic sector. Prepared by Lonsdale’s strategic planning division, with the participation of Stéphanie Baldinucci, Head of Personal Banking at Banque de Luxembourg.
Generations are built on disruptions, which mark the boundaries between ‘us’ and ‘them’, between dominant models and cultural counterpoints, between tools considered obsolete and new communication channels. Every generation compares itself to the previous one, judging itself to be better prepared and more aware of how the world is evolving and changing. This is how generation gaps emerge. Back in ancient times, Aristotle, a materialist observer, believed that only young people were truly in touch with the real world, deeming that “the exercise of thought and knowledge declines with age”. While generational differences have always been noticeable and commented on, a shift occurred at the turn of the 21st century that clearly distinguished one generation from the next. The Boomers and Generation X were succeeded by the millennials – children of globalisation who bore the promise of a digital revolution. While they nurtured many fantasies about technology and society, these individuals (also known as Generation Y) paved the way for the next generation, the Zs. Born between 1996 and 2010, the Zs were destined to shake up organisations and the establishment.
Generations became a popular subject of study by the media (and commerce) in the 2000s largely because technological, economic and social disruptions had accelerated at such an enormous and unprecedented rate. A new generation gap is forming, driven by rapid advances, the normalisation of disruption and large-scale social change. So what will the world of Generation Z look like? How will these new savers and future investors behave? What will their relationship with money be like? Several scenarios can be laid out. Let's begin with an outline.
Children of the crisis
Every generation carries the scars of its era. For Generation Z, (near) political stability defined by an absence of armed conflict between nations contrasts with the (total) economic instability that lies ahead. Economic crisis forms part of their landscape and they have seen their elders suffer the effects of the successive crises of 2008 and 2012. Although not directly affected by the recession, they became aware of financial risks from an early age, either by watching their parents’ real-life concerns or dramatised accounts on the big screen.1 And yet they are on the front line of the 2020 global pandemic and its economic consequences, with devalued degrees, cancelled internships, and curtailed purchasing power. Their financial independence has been seriously delayed and their youth is being extended ‘at both ends’.
They may be more mature because of social media and their awareness of the times, but they are financially dependent on their parents for longer and are postponing the milestones of adult life such as buying their first home, getting married or having their first child. Stéphanie Baldinucci, head of personal banking at Banque de Luxembourg, explains: “We’re seeing a lot of negativity and worry among young people. It's becoming increasingly difficult for them to enter the workforce and if they want to buy a property they’re going to be in debt for at least thirty years.” These changes are causing a deep identity crisis that reinforces social enclaves and undermines an already fragile trust in institutions.
The society of mistrust
Where Generation Z differs most from previous generations is in its strong animosity and anger towards the generations that preceded it. Popular youth movements such as Fridays for Future and Black Lives Matter are characterised by a desire to overturn the icons of the past and hold elders accountable. While Greta Thunberg openly blames previous generations for ruining her future and is a target for Donald Trump on Twitter, inter-generational arguments continue to rage on social media, particularly on TikTok, where teenagers post videos of their clashes with their parents. The children of the 2000s hold baby boomers responsible for today’s climate and economic problems. Fully 51% of them believe that the excesses of the post-war generation have damaged their standard of living as well as the health of the global economy. As a result of this widespread mistrust, the old idols have fallen and authority is undermined.
The media, official institutions and traditional influencers are no longer in their circle of trust. Young people are increasingly turning to their private networks, giving more credence to their peers, the opinions of their friends and group discussions. A total of 82% of 13-21-year-olds believe their family and friends over any other source of information. Consequently, young people are naturally less inclined to be loyal to brands or the traditional trusted authorities. As Stéphanie Baldinucci points out, “Young people are less and less loyal to their bank. Whereas their parents had the same bank for most of their lives, young people will change if their person-to-person experience or relationship is not optimal.”
The younger generations want immediate gratification and expect opening an account to take no longer than booking a hotel room online or ordering an Uber. Stéphanie Baldinucci
The information apocalypse
Born during the Fourth Industrial Revolution, that of mass digitisation and connected devices, individuals from Generation Z are the first not to have known a world without internet or social media. Their access to information is instantaneous and their thirst for new content insatiable. On average, they get their first smartphone at the age of 10 and start using networks dedicated to their age group. Their hyper-connectedness creates a growing impatience that makes waiting a hindrance and a turn-off, and is a challenge for organisations. “The younger generations want immediate gratification and expect opening an account to take no longer than booking a hotel room online or ordering an Uber,” says Stéphanie Baldinucci.
Accustomed to surfing a tsunami of content on their mobile devices, these generations are more independent than previous ones and alert to fake news and disinformation. They no longer blindly trust the media or experts but are immediately sceptical about facts and are used to questioning sources. They’ve turned fact-checking into a ubiquitous skill. To be valid, it’s not enough for a fact to be proven; it must also come from a source they deem trustworthy and they must identify strongly with the statement on a personal level.
Young people will change if their person-to-person experience or relationship is not optimal.Stéphanie Baldinucci
Based on these core, salient points, we can devise two scenarios for the sole purpose of forecasting what kind of relationships we might see (and relatively soon) between the maturing Gen Z and their banks. As in any exercise involving a fictitious scenario, these two proposals combine verified facts and subjective opinions and pit outlook against prediction.
Scenario 1: ‘The horizontal bank’
Although 84% of young people base their first financial decisions and the choice of their first bank on parental guidance, they tend to be more independent when it comes to day-to-day management of their finances and the decisions they make in early adulthood. The user journey shows that, above all, they are demanding. Better informed and with higher expectations, Gen Zs are reinventing banks’ communication channels and steering them towards mobile devices, which have become their sole means of communication. They use ‘super apps’ to perform financial transactions (such as their first stock market deal) while gathering real-time opinions from advisers, friends and family. The social network TikTok is also turning into a giant educational platform where advisers decipher what’s happening in the financial world in real time.
With smartphones and instant messaging platforms, banks consolidate their role as confidant and open up permanent communication channels. They focus on horizontal relationships of trust with their customers and are transparent in what they say and how they interface. The relationship is more immediate and continues through ‘personal’ channels such as WhatsApp, where bankers have regular discussions with their clients as their trusted adviser. For day-to-day tasks, artificial intelligence becomes more sophisticated, responding to clients immediately and sending them regular updates via chat. To temper some potentially difficult or stressful discussions, bankers and clients have the option of communicating via messages or ‘stories’ (short, ephemeral videos). Banks adapt their structure to offer more human contact and an ever increasing array of services .
Scenario 2: ‘The new puritans’
Marked by the economic crises of their youth and having witnessed first-hand their parents’ financial anxiety, savers from Generation Z are cautious and therefore opt for precautionary savings. In contrast to the carefree attitude of Generations X and Y, this new group is prudent and pragmatic and wants the right to invest, save and own property. They are returning to conservative values, unlike the millennials, who are characterised by wanderlust, preferring experiences over material goods, travel over settling down and sharing over amassing. This ‘sacrificed generation’ focuses on tangible values. They prefer to consume less so they can better manage their finances and plan for the future. Such is the extent of this that household savings will reach an all-time high in many countries, slowing production and causing concern for the economy.
Budgetary caution and the dominant ‘ant’ model will be passed on to their children, who will have digital piggy banks to encourage them to save. These children will receive available balances on their phones in real time along with what they can buy and how much they'll need to buy the toy of their dreams. Children will learn about investment through educational tools, with the youngest using virtual currencies that can be converted into sweets, story-reading or even support for ecological or animal causes. All of which will make the Zs proud.
In both scenarios, this ‘anxious’ but feisty generation demands a seamless relationship with their bank and uses digital and AI tools to create channels that provide close, human contact. The bank adviser might even end up as a character in popular new online games such as Animal Crossing to help manage virtual accounts. Some of Generation Z's ultra-loyalty platforms, such as Twitch, already have their own virtual currencies which are gradually increasing in value. Tomorrow’s banks will be up against a world without borders or limits. It is a very good thing.
Children of the crisis learn from the mistakes of their elders and differ from millennials in that they reject excessive consumption and save scrupulously to protect themselves.
Ultra-connection and the ubiquitous presence of mobile devices in daily life mean that banks must respond intelligently to demands for immediacy. Instant messaging networks allow advisers to have one-on-one discussions and develop a warm relationship with their customers.
The constant presence of fake news in the daily life of younger generations is changing the way they relate to institutions. To gain their trust, banks must show that they are transparent and educational by creating more formats and channels.
A dedicated website
www.banquedeluxembourg100ans.com has been specially created to mark the Bank’s centenary. The website uncovers 100 years of economic and social history, going back in time and analysing the implications for the future.
1 The Big Short, Margin Call and The Laundromat were box office hits providing fictionalised accounts of subjects such as the sub-prime crisis and the Panama Papers.