Banking Millennials: How to Get it Right.

It’s an understatement to say Millennials have caused quite the ruckus in the marketplace across industries, including banking. Due to the fact that Millennials are the first generation of digital natives, they live digitally, socialize digitally, find love digitally, and bank digitally. Millennials do not simply represent a seismic demographic shift; they are the force driving foundational consumer behavior that will spill over for generations to come. Thus, understanding millennials will also help in understanding the behavioral shifts in Generation X as well as Generation Y, who are also highly desirable banking customers. Aside from the demographic tidal wave that Millennials boast, there’s one critical point that should not be lost on any banking CEO and CMO; “an estimated $30 trillion in wealth will transfer from baby boomers to millennials over the next 30 years,” according to Gallup.

And while Millennials are digital natives, they do not consume digital media exclusively. Therefore, while digital marketing ought to play an important part in your bank’s integrated marketing strategies, it should not be the only strategy. Afterall, regardless of the demographic or platform, your marketing campaigns ought at least achieve two basic elements, 1: Promote your brand and grow your influence and 2: Protect your brand. 

Let’s start with data to provide perspective:


  • According to AdEspresso, “Millennials are focused on saving,” and Forbes says a “surprising 16% of Millennials between the ages of 23 and 37 now have at least $100,000 saved for retirement.”

  • Zogby Research says “Millennials have less trust for hierarchical structure and more trust in the wisdom of the crowd” – hence why many institutions, including banks, are seemingly less relevant in their lives.

  • According to eMarketer, “55.4 million millennials ages 23 to 38 will use digital banking.” However, they are not simply interested in only digital banking. This suggests that while millennials visit branches less often, they still want “the option of going to a physical location,” said Mark Dolliver, principal analyst at eMarketer.  “Activities like withdrawals and deposits are necessary, but are not a business driver. Customers, especially millennials, want to enter a branch when they need to and be counseled—in person—on topics, like opening accounts, mortgages, investments, and the like,” according to a recent research report by JLL, the real estate management firm. 

  • Javelin Strategy & Research and Jumio points out “43% of millennials had abandoned mobile banking activities because the process took too long or was too complicated.” This suggests that millennials value ease of use and speed as part of their digital banking experience.

  • Gallup’s research indicates that millennials in the U.S. have the lowest levels of customer engagement while “switching their primary banking at a rate that is 2.5 times more often than Baby Boomers and Traditionalists and 1.5 times more than Gen Xers.” This makes marketing to Millennials significantly more challenging, requires patience and may call for a special focus on the total lifetime value of acquiring a millennial customer rather than simply implementing broader customer acquisition strategies.

One way of approaching marketing strategies for Millennials is to learn from and mirror successful brands outside of banking who seem to have gotten Millennials right, partially because they’ve committed to the demographic and partially because they’ve spent millions to understand them, including American Express, Chipotle, Netflix, Gillette, and AT&T. You may ask “what does this have to do with banking?” The reality is if you’re not learning from the marketing experiences of other industries and iconic brands, your brand highly likely to be more insular and therefore miss opportunities…so here we go!

Speak Their Language…Consistently: At all touchpoints including your advertising, website, social media, apps, and in-house communications, make sure your creative speaks to Millennials in meaningful ways that connect. Ensure your creative is consistent! I can’t tell you how many times I have heard “yeah, we tried that for a couple of months…” A couple of months does not make a campaign. And if you did, what was the positioning of your creative? Short term tactics do nothing to foster trust in the marketplace or your brand equity. Appropriate frequency and reach strategies are critical in this case.

Make it easy: Your digital assets are vital points of experience and interaction not just for Millennials, but especially for them. Make interacting with your website, app including your emails so easy people will want to stay. Millennials, like everyone else, value their time and have no time for digital sloppiness. The old saying goes, people waste time on websites and save time on apps. Make sure the app experience and digital experiences are exceptional for your customers. These experiences automatically translate to brand equity gains if positive with negative ramifications for your brand accompanying frustrating digital experiences. For example, if your digital brand offers an easy experience, Millennials (and all your customers) will have a level of trust and respect for your brand, if your digital assets are frustrating it’s pretty simply for your customers to find another bank.


Educate: Teach Millennials how to save, buy a house and manage money. Do this by using video on social platforms like Instagram or Reddit. Make the content so compelling they’ll actually learn something they value. The going may be slow initially, but if your brand is there and your competitor isn’t, you’ll win in the long-term. And since Millennials look to their network for recommendations, your bank will be top of mind in both on and offline buzz.


Create Experiences: Millennials are interested in being social offline as well. For example, sponsor a Millennial-focused food truck festival or partner with a local restaurant or brewery to tap into their customer base. Qapital, one of the most popular savings apps with Millennials, partnered with a tattoo parlor in New York City and as a result got generated relevant buzz with Millennials and other groups, it also received some “ink” in Inked Magazine’s its website which Qapital used to share on its social media properties to capitalize on the ripple effects of the campaign. In-branch experiences can also deliver meaningful experiences, and you’ll be surprised what you can do if you think outside the digital box. 


Align with a Cause: Millennials’ social awareness is fairly high relative to other generations. Do well and do good by aligning your bank’s brand with a cause cared about by Millennials. Cause marketing campaigns have a unique bounce and ripple effects digitally across platforms and will give your bank buzz-worthy opportunities to connect with Millennials and your community in more meaningful ways.


Commit to Digital: Since Millennials live digitally, they recognize if your bank is faking it. Your commitment to digital transformation ought to be at the forefront of your marketing strategies. Establishing digital standards across platforms, from websites, apps, email, text reminder, social media After all, what good is investing in marketing to Millennials and acquiring them as customers if we aren’t able to hold on to them?


Finally, creating a Millennial-focused banking-brand or sub-brand for that matter (think Marcus by Goldman Sachs) will require patience and the recognition that not everything you will do to court this generation is going to work. That’s a business and marketing fact regardless of demographics. However, those who pursue Millennials with diligence and patience will likely see a payoff, especially if you have an eye on that $30 trillion that they’ll need to bank soon.  


Abe Kasbo is CEO of Verasoni Worldwide a strategic marketing communications firm and advisory with offices in Fairfield, NJ. Visit to learn more.