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Financial firms don’t connect with millennials, study finds

Layne Filio worries about how she’ll save for retirement and afford the life she wants.

Yet she has “zero trust” in financial professionals to help her.

“A lot of them, I feel like they just want my money,” said Filio, 24, of Lawrenceville.

Many of her peers share Filio’s perspective, something that should be a wake-up call for an industry that often fails to connect with the so-called “millennial generation,” according to a study by Bank of New York Mellon and the University of Oxford.

The study released on Monday revealed a disconnect between people born after 1980 and financial services firms, both in the products offered to young investors and the messages used to attract them. The report’s findings underscore the challenges that financial services firms will have attracting a new generation of customers.

A survey of more than 1,100 millennials in the United States and around the world found them twice as likely to turn to parents for financial advice than their bank. And though many younger people understand the importance of saving for retirement, most are counting on personal savings rather than solely on contributions to their employer-sponsored retirement plan or a government program such as Social Security.

There are several reasons that firms have been unable to reach younger consumers, the survey said. One is that firms haven’t developed products that connect the rewards of saving to the present. Nearly three-quarters of the millenials surveyed said they would save more for retirement if they were rewarded in some way.

It’s a lot to ask a 20-something to hand over their hard-earned dollars and not be able to touch any part of it for several decades, said Don Marinelli, the co-founder of Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center who has studied the millennial generation.

“You need something where they can put money aside, and you have to reward them with better interest,” he said. “But you also have to give them opportunity to withdraw some of that money to use when they do get married, want a house, child and all of that.”

Firms need to be clear about the “rules of the game,” Marinelli said.

Filio’s distrust of financial service companies is a result of being hit with what she felt were excessively high fees, many of which she was unaware of until they were deducted from her account balance.

“It seemed secretive,” she said.

Meg Evans, 32, of Squirrel Hill had more faith in the financial firms to help her save for retirement. She didn’t have bad experiences with fees or unnecessary charges, she said, and the statements from Tiaa-Cref about her retirement investments were easy to understand, she said.

Still, there were certain lines she didn’t want firms to cross in reaching out to her. Contacting her online was fine, but she didn’t want a bank or financial adviser calling her or sending messages through social media.

“I think our generation, anything like calling on the phone, people do not trust that,” she said. “Calling them on the phone is the new knocking on the door. Why are they coming to my door?”

Less than a fifth of all millennials surveyed said they wanted to receive phone calls from a financial adviser, and less than 1 percent wanted to be contacted via social media.

It all comes down to honesty, Marinelli said. Millennials are willing to accept that this is a business transaction, nothing more. Financial firms need not pretend they are their customers’ friends.

“They’re saying, ‘Who are we kidding? You’re a business,’ ” he said of millennials. “ ‘You’re an insurance company. You’re not my friend.’ ”

Chris Fleisher is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7854 or [email protected].


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