Forward-thinking Financial Institutions have their eye on the prize: Gen Z and Gen Alpha. But the reality is, these up-and-coming generations have drastically different desires, needs, and financial habits than the ones that came before them.

As an industry, are we saying the wrong things? On the wrong channels? With the wrong media?

Winning over this next generation will be a unique challenge for the Financial Services industry – a challenge that no one has seemed to fully crack the code. While incumbent banks face the biggest hurdles to reach them, even FinTech’s have a lot to learn when it comes to these young financial consumers.

Not only do Gen Z and Gen Alpha have different ideas when it comes to managing their finances, their purpose-driven, non-linear approach to life has also left their parents and grandparents scratching their heads. And you can bet these values permeate every decision they make – even the ones that seem as black and white as where to put their money.

We’re using the wrong channels

The younger generations of banking customers aren’t reading whitepapers, visiting your website, or attending your webinars to learn how to manage their finances. They’re instead turning to authentic voices they already trust in the form of podcasters, TikTokers, YouTubers, and other influencers.

At a recent panel about the next generation of banking customers I sat on at the American Banker Digital Banking Conference, Elizabeth Song, Global Category Development Officer, Financial Services at Spotify made this point specifically. Spotify’s Culture Next report shows that podcast listenership among Gen Z grew by 62% over the past year.

Edison Research backs that up in its State of Podcasting 2022 report. 64% of Gen Z and 55% of Gen Alpha listen to podcasts regularly. However, it’s not just podcasting that’s capturing attention.

Gen Z and Gen Alpha consumers live in an omnichannel world. They are the first generations of true digital natives, having grown up with information available about anything, at any time, at their fingertips.

Today, in an era of information overload they are seeking out trusted content providers. And, in the age of snackable content, they’re choosing personalized and interactive experiences, such as quizzes and calculators, over reading white papers to learn about their financial options.

We’re telling the wrong story

People are living longer, and they’re no longer following linear financial or career journeys.

Gone are the days where the typical path starts with a 40-year career right out of college, before sailing off into the sunset with your retirement funds at age 65.

Today, people are choosing multiple career paths over the course of their working years. The average Gen Z worker now expects to work as many as 18 different jobs, live in 15 different residences, and span six different careers according to ECMC Group. They’re changing careers later in life. They’re going back to school in their 30’s, 40’s, and even 50’s. They’re taking time off, sometimes for years at a time.

People want optionality, but we’re still talking to people as if there’s only one way people are living their lives. The younger generations are desperate for information tailored to their new reality, but they aren’t getting it from Financial Institutions, and they’re certainly not getting it from their schooling. Only 22 states demand a semester-long financial course for graduation and only a handful have fully implemented programs. Test data from the National Financial Educators Council shows that nearly 52% of 15- to 18-year-olds fail basic financial literacy quizzes.

Yet rather than pick the low hanging fruit to fill this knowledge gap, Financial Institutions instead approach brand messaging in the context of immediate financial decisions, such as opening up an account or taking out a loan. This transactional customer experience is further exacerbated by a bifurcated view of the customer journey in the space.

Financial institutions have robust customer journey maps detailing product usage, digital segmentation, and even the customer lifecycle – yet there’s no connective tissue between these strategic insights. Behavioral data is abundant, but without the attitudinal or psychographic segmentation to tie behaviors to the “why” behind them, Financial Services brands are failing to show customers their brand is anything more than a series of products.

Pushing products rather than lifestyles ignores the core customer problem of the younger generations: that when it comes to designing their life, they have no idea where or how financial planning fits in. Solve this for Gen Z and Gen Alpha, and you’ll win their trust for decades to come.

Humanize your brand by embracing the person, not the product

Today, Financial Services brands need to embrace the whole customer – not just our financial personas –  to win the hearts and minds of the generations aging into financial independence. The bad news is no one is doing it well.

The good news is there is ample opportunity for brands that humanize the experience and challenge the age-old tropes of personal finance. Here are 3 ways you can start:

  1. Show up in the broader life ecosystem

Financial services brands need to permeate multiple narratives Gen Z and Gen Alpha are following as they build their lives and plan for their futures. Product-specific promotions, like information about home loans when our young customers signal they’re ready to buy, or a higher rewards card when we see an income boost, are merely the tip of the iceberg.

We need to capture them sooner and with a lot more empathy. Brands need to flex and show there’s not one single path for every individual. Show them we celebrate their desire for optionality in their lives and careers. Show them how our brands will support them financially so they can make choices purposefully. Unravel a story for them promising an engagement with our brand will provide safety, security, and autonomy while they navigate their young lives.

For example, we helped Ally Bank transform their brand perception from a straightforward bank to a unified digital Financial Services company through a relentless focus on financial well-being. We didn’t push products to the rearview mirror. Rather, we reframed them under the umbrella of a customer-obsessed brand that uses products to combat obstacles on their customers’ journey to financial wellness.

  1. Meet them where they are

Financial brands need to prioritize the right channels where Gen Z and Gen Alpha are actively engaging, and activate them with the influencers who’ve already won their trust. This will entail some creativity as traditional brands delve into new mediums such as podcasting, short-form video, and partnerships.

We also need to recognize these generations don’t want to consume financial products in the same way as their predecessors. According to Volume 2 of our Humanizing Customer Experience study in partnership with American Banker, younger generations are more likely to piece together their banking needs with multiple providers. The number of younger consumers willing or somewhat likely to switch providers is about double that of previous generations.

That has a lot of implications for incumbent banks and banking as a service (BaaS) providers. While FinTech’s can anchor in niche products, incumbent banks often find themselves trapped in legacy systems that are difficult to transform. One option is for banks to partner with FinTechs to meet their customers’ evolving needs. Brands that aren’t open to these types of customer-sharing partnerships may need to build in-house product teams to compete in this more fragmented landscape.

  1. Personalize, personalize, and hyper-personalize some more

In every nook and cranny of marketing today, personalization yields better results. McKinsey research shows companies that excel at personalization generate, on average, 40% more revenue than their competitors.

Gen Z and Gen Alpha prefer media that is personalized to their interests, and they’re willing to share data to get it. In Volume 1 of our Humanizing Customer Experience study, in partnership with American Banker, nearly three-quarters of consumers are willing to provide personal information to get personalized benefits.

Yet, many Financial Institutions still present a menu of services rather than personalizing financial pathways. Gen Z and Gen Alpha aren’t interested in knowing what types of accounts we offer. They want to know what accounts are best for them, align to their values, and how they should be planning for their financial futures. They want a technological financial advisor of sorts that knows it’s not so much about wealth accumulation as it is about having the money they need to manage their life choices.

A quarter of Gen Z specifically said they would appreciate personalized feedback regarding their spending habits with recommendations on reaching their financial goals. 30% of Gen Z want a personalized summary of their subscriptions, including expiration dates, and suggestions for personalized bundles that can save them money.

For financial brands, this could come to life in the form of personalized digital tools, such as quizzes, calculators, and even AI chatbots, that digest information from the customer and share personalized recommendations and action plans. While these tools would certainly provide an opportunity to push products and convert customers, the benefits to the brand holistically would be exponential. To emerge as a trusted resource in a sea of convoluted information would guarantee the loyalty of a financially lost generation.

Always start with the brand

When it comes to capturing the next generation of financial consumers into our ecosystems, Financial Institutions have a brand problem that supersedes their product problem. While there are certainly tactical shifts that need to take place, starting with the brand is the key component to set everything else in motion for financial providers to succeed over the next several decades.

Gen Z and Gen Alpha view traditional banking models as stuffy, archaic, and cold. Before they can flip the switch on our services, financial brands first have to align on how we can prove to these young consumers that we don’t just have their backs, but that we understand what sets them apart from their parents and grandparents.

That’s a branding endeavor.

Lead with emotion, follow through with product. Remember, our financial future is intertwined with theirs. And they’re not about to change for us. So it’s time to accept we might have to change for them – and that could be the best thing that ever happens to our brands.

Interested in talking more about branding Financial Institutions to appeal to Gen Z and Gen Alpha? Reach out to me directly at

Brian Elkins
July 20, 2023 By Brian Elkins