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Experts from the Financial Services and Communications industries gathered round our boardroom today in sunny Soho to contemplate the challenges facing millennials as they look for ways to improve on their financial situation. The panellists were James Thorpe, Head of Communications at MasterCard, Emma De Vita, Freelancer and Columnist for the Financial Times, and Mark Falcon, ex-Payment Systems Regulator and Special Advisor to the House of Commons.

Coupling their experience with research from MWW, the panellists and other attendees tried to flesh out what issues were surrounding millennials and what matters to them most.

Challenges 

Millennials are tech-enthusiasts and perceived as less loyal towards traditional banks, yet more financially frugal than their elders. One would expect traditional banks to be in disarray, losing customers left, right and centre to little-known start-ups. Yet this hasn’t happened. Challenger brands can only be successful by edging away at one particular aspect of what a bank might offer (e.g. Transferwise with international money transfers) but this specificity means that they will not take down the banks altogether. Instead, they could damage banks by a thousand cuts – gradually chopping away at the profitable services that surround the core, loss making free current account service. To resist this, traditional banks should focus on customer service to retain and attract millennials as no matter what demographic, it is still important for banks to remain available to their customers, when they need them – and no matter what time.

Whilst the panel were not considering any start-ups (such as Tandem) as direct threats to more established players, PayPal and Vanguard pose a bigger threat to the financial service eco-system due to their growing footprints. Will Apple and Google (or even Uber) come to play in the financial services arena, offering prepaid cards directly plugged into their services – for example? Only time will tell, and the future might well see these major consumer brands compete for millennial customers who arguably already see these brands as trustworthy when relying upon them for different services – away from saving and spending.

Informing

With rising house prices, fairly stagnant wages and ever-increasing sources of debt, millennials risk never seeking out financial advice until they retire. Face-to-face banking interactions are on the decrease and general trust in the sector is also declining, so it is no wonder that 48% of millennials find financial services difficult to understand. Millennials represent a huge market — most of the work-force in the coming years. Banks just aren’t doing enough to offer them the services to meet their needs and current situation. Therefore, millennials turn to their social networks and online offerings to get advice on financial services. 63% of millennials agree that is important to spend their time researching ways to save and invest.

Retaining

Despite being tech-savvy innovators who might shy away from traditional employment and spending schemes, Millennials still tend to stick with traditional banks. So long as banks still offer simple and sensible services, there isn’t much reason for millennials to move elsewhere. The core banking products remain squarely in the legacy court. So long as in the future, they can offer services that millennials want (such as instant financial tracking) then established banks can continue to be a success.

Regulation

There was a lot of discussion about how banks and payment brands need to set their products apart in order to attract the savers of the future. In other words, you need to differentiate to gain new customers. But that is difficult in the world of finance which is less protected by intellectual property laws than say the technology sector. Any innovation can be copied by a rival within weeks. This also ensures that the sector as a whole is less likely to be disrupted overnight.

Millenarian Millennials

The well-reasoned debate left much of the room wondering how useful it was to consider millennials as a tribe apart. How different are they? Was it not just the technology and the environment they grew up in that will be changing their views on money? Growing up through a recession, seldom contemplating being able to save for the homes and pensions that Baby Boomers enjoyed, is it any wonder that they find financial services daunting? Maybe it is not the end of the world, but just a different world that the financial services industry will sooner or later have to learn to adapt to.

To request a full copy of the “How Millennials Save and Spend in the UK” report, then please e-mail Ked Mather – kmather@mww.com

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