March 8, 2018

The Generation Game: How can financial services communicate generational issues?


By Katy Chambers, Account Executive, Instinctif Partners

Millennials, Baby Boomers, Gen Z, Gen Y… Increasingly as a nation we’re looking to divide and identify ourselves along generational lines. So much so that today’s generational identities have reached the point of parody – whether that’s “snowflake” millennials or the rich and greedy baby boomers.

The topic of intergenerational fairness is a lively and ongoing debate across the UK. Stereotypes aside, the baby boomer generation are the wealthiest the UK has ever known, with pensioners today enjoying incomes £20 higher per week compared to working households. This week a Tory peer even suggested the introduction of a “baby boomer tax” to combat growing inequality.

Broaching the topic of generational fairness is something of a tightrope for organisations, in which they can risk playing a “blame game”. Recent discussion sparked by the claims that millennials could afford a home if only they went cold turkey on avocado toast, perfectly demonstrates how sensitive and controversial these debates can be.

When it comes to communicating on generational issues such as these, financial services organisations are in a unique position. More so than any other industry, retail financial institutions sit at the heart of these issues, whether that’s loans to fund university, mortgages for first time buyers, pensions for retirement or equity release to fund later life care. Given this, it’s easy to argue that they’re therefore obliged to acknowledge and engage in these debates.

And, with customer bases that span the whole spectrum of generations, from 18 to 80 year olds, remaining compassionate yet neutral in these debates is essential, albeit challenging.

However, just as the UK’s financial issues don’t operate in isolation, neither should companies’ communication on them.

Consumer financial brands are perfectly positioned to facilitate debates through multi-generational campaigns that look at these generational issues in an interconnected way. Instead of looking just at housing affordability or retirement saving, why not consider how these issues may relate to one another? Is the Bank of Mum and Dad jeopardising parents from saving for a comfortable retirement?

Through developing multi-generational campaigns that consider these issues from a range of perspectives and angles, financial services organisations can help facilitate a far more productive and potentially harmonising conversation in the media.

When developing a generational campaign, media and its modes must be an integral part of strategy. We’re well aware that the way the UK population engages with media varies considerably depending on age.

With 88% of 25-34 year-olds engaging with social media, digital is undoubtedly the future. And encouragingly, organisations are already looking at innovative ways to engage with younger audiences, as demonstrated by Bank of England’s Snapchat filter used to launch the new £10 note.

Yet, with just 73% of 65+ yet to engage with social networks, traditional forms of media are still the main route to capture the attention of older audiences – an equity-release social media influencer campaign for example is probably not the best method of reaching a later life audience!

Spokespeople are also crucial. For example, we’re well aware of the importance of female spokespeople to voice female issues. If you want to communicate effectively on generational issues then shouldn’t the same logic be applied when deciding on who your most appropriate spokesperson should be when trying to reach a particular age demographic?

Consumers respond to what represents and resonates with them. When communicating on generational topics be it retirement or university, companies should look beyond their board or organisations to find a representative ambassador to lend itself to their campaign or cause, helping to give a credible and authentic voice.

With generational differences becoming more marked, and the conversation on intergenerational fairness showing no sign of quietening, financial services at the heart of this debate need to consider these nuances and challenges if they are to navigate this social and political landscape successfully.