This article originally appeared in the World Economic Forum on November 17, 2023. It was co-authored by Bob Wigley, chair of UK Finance, an association representing the country’s banking and finance industry.
Like most businesses, financial institutions are often mystified by the quirks and nuances of Generation Z.
Misunderstanding this sometimes-confusing cohort of 20-somethings could prove costly. Gen Zers will make up roughly 15% of the UK workforce by 2025 — and their influence will only continue to increase, with commensurate jumps in spending and investing power, as more members reach working age and the group enters its prime earning years.
Gen Z attitudes toward money and finances are sometimes aligned with and sometimes starkly different from those of older generations. To capture Gen Zers’ attention and growing cash hoard, firms need to understand what makes them tick and meet them where they are — even when their opinions and desires seem unconventional.
Gen Zers, defined as those born between 1997 and 2012, have grown up in a digital world, but there’s much about traditional banks they like. The level of trust Gen Zers have that banks will safeguard their data, for example, is far greater than the confidence they place in big tech.
In all, 43% of Gen Zers say physical, bricks-and-mortar branches are important to them because they provide “peace of mind,” according to the Oliver Wyman Forum’s Global Consumer Sentiment (GCS) survey.
To build lasting relationships with Gen Zers, though, banks need to combine their physical presence with a competitive, exciting digital offering — including in the metaverse, where many members of this generation spend time. Banks also must provide services that satisfy Gen Z's demand for convenience, choice, value, sustainability and hyper-personalization.
Make The Digital Part Exceptional
Virtually all financial institutions these days offer their services online — but mere competence won’t cut it for Gen Zers, who have grown up with smartphones in their hands. An overwhelming 73% say customer experience plays a critical role in determining their favorite brand, according to the GCS survey. They want tools that help them manage their money, learn from peers, and provide a sense of community and fun.
Gen Zers embrace digital innovators, with 72% saying they use a neobank (a direct, online-only bank) app as their primary budgeting tool, according to the GCS survey. The best of these digital-first firms provide a seamless user experience with engaging graphics and information about making transactions or choosing what to invest in. Gamefied features such as leaderboards of the most popular stocks have a particular appeal to a generation weaned on so-called play-to-earn video games and the meme stock phenomenon.
Appeal To Gen Z’s Investing Savvy
If financial executives think today’s young investors are like they were back in the day, they’re selling Gen Z short. This crowd is investing earlier than previous generations, and in a wider range of asset classes — both traditional and virtual. They’re also more diverse than their predecessors. Firms need to understand that behavior, as well as the motivations that drive it, and tailor their offerings accordingly.
Almost half of Gen Zers invest in the stock market, according to the GCS survey. They are 45% more likely to start investing by age 21 than millennials and two to four times more likely than Gen X and baby boomers. And they aren’t setting aside piddling sums. According to a recent Blackrock survey, members of this cohort save a hefty 14% of their incomes.
Not surprisingly for the first generation to come of age since the creation of Bitcoin, Gen Z has a sizable risk appetite for cryptocurrencies and other virtual assets. Forty-two percent of Gen Z investors have put money into crypto, compared with 38% of millennials, 22% of Gen X, and 7% of boomers, according to GCS data.
Gen Z women are 50% more likely to invest in digital assets than other generations. In the US and UK, 68% of Black and Asian Gen Zers invest in crypto – a share that’s nearly three times higher than Black and Asian respondents from older generations.
Yet just as with banking, the attraction these young investors have for crypto does not imply any rejection of the traditional sources of money. The GCS survey finds that Gen Zers are more open to the idea of a digital pound and other central bank digital currencies than older generations. They would consider digital tokenization of real world financial assets like stocks and bonds, to enable them to be traded on blockchain technology, as well overdue.
Not So Different
Once you cast aside the misperceptions, it’s easier to see Gen Zers for who they really are: pragmatists who are keenly focused on securing their financial future.
They are determined to take control of their money while hungry for information and advice; eager to take risk in crypto and other virtual assets even as they allocate savings to stocks, bonds, and other traditional assets; and unwilling to settle for anything less than top-notch service and round-the-clock digital connectivity.
Gen Z’s growing numbers and financial clout means these attitudes and preferences will rule the market before long. Financial institutions that want to appeal to this cohort need to understand and embrace their values.