Millennials and Banking: What the Data Reveals about Delivering a Great Customer Experience

The 80 million millennials in the United States comprise the largest generational cohort in history. While news headlines make it seem like all millennials are indecisive basement-dwellers, there has never been a less homogenous generational segment. And banks are taking note.

We work with quite a few retail banks and credit unions, helping to collect customer feedback and manage their customer experience programs. All of these companies are collecting data on how age impacts customer preferences. We recently aggregated this data across our clients to better understand emerging trends around millennials and banking. Here’s what we found.

Younger customers prefer online banking to other channels.

This won’t surprise anyone who follows millennial research, but one notable highlight in particular should play a role in your customer experience strategy. While millennials as a whole prefer online banking, a marked difference exists between the 18- to 25-year-old and the 25- to 35-year-old segments.

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To understand what’s happening here, let’s take a look at another insight that emerged in our research. We found that the largest segment (16%) of banking customers who report a problem have been with a bank for less than one year. This finding tells us that the most at-risk customers are also the newest customers. It’s possible that because 18 to 25 year olds are newer to managing finances, they are more likely to want to visit a branch to manage their transactions.

So, how can you make this data work for you? Think about how you onboard your youngest customers, and don’t assume they will never want to talk to you. In fact, it’s possible that the reason they chose you over online-only options like Simple and Chime is because they want the security of talking to a person face-to-face. Use the early months of the relationship to get them into the branch and teach them good financial habits.

It’s not time to bid the branch goodbye (yet).

In the chart above, respondents were asked to choose their preferred banking channel. But that doesn’t mean millennials who prefer online banking don’t care about visiting branch locations. Another study, conducted by Accenture, found that 86% of millennials plan to be using a branch in the near future. This is consistent with what we found among our clients–81% of the 18- to 25-year-old crowd also uses branches.

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Branch visits are expensive for banks, but they offer highly valuable opportunities to forge long-term relationships through personal interaction. In short, you can use these in-person touch points today to build higher customer lifetime value in the future.

Mobile banking hasn’t yet reached mass adoption.

The chart above not only shows the staying power of the branch, but also reveals something about the role of mobile app banking in the customer experience. While the 25- to 35-year-old crowd is part of the millennial cohort, less than half (47%) of them are using mobile apps. The most avid mobile app consumers are younger millennials in the 18- to 25-year-old range where we see 57% using mobile banking apps.

Knowing who is using your mobile app is as important as understanding how they are using it. The third annual Bank of America Trends in Consumer Mobility Report found that millennials most commonly use banking apps to:

  • Check balances and statements (85%),

  • Transfer money between accounts (58%), and

  • Pay bills (52%).

This knowledge of how millennials use mobile apps has certainly been a driving factor in the success of online-only banks, but the established banking players are quickly catching up. Wells Fargo’s app interface (shown below) is a great example of banks using behavioral data to design better customer experiences for millennials. On the very first screen after login, users are presented with a summary of balances (most common app use case). On the second screen we see the option to transfer money (second most common use case), and pay bills (third most common use case).

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Watch out for the silent sufferers among your millennial customers.

Millennials switch banks at a higher rate (19% vs. 11% average) than other age brackets. Statistics like this often come paired with a story bemoaning the end of customer loyalty, but our research revealed what may be a more nuanced narrative. This chart shows how closely contacting customer support is with problem resolution. Because the youngest segment of millennials is the most likely to suffer in silence, they tend to endure unresolved problems.

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If you’re just waiting for your millennial customers to come to you when they have a problem… well, you might be waiting for awhile. You need to be proactive in making sure your millennial customers are happy. This is where feedback surveys and voice of the customer programs come into play. Triggering requests for feedback after certain transactions, or even on a rolling quarterly basis, puts you ahead of millennial churn by making sure you know about the kinds of problems they’re experiencing.

Listen and Respond to Customer Feedback.

A few years ago, we conducted an in-depth study of banking executives to understand how customer experience initiatives were impacting revenue growth. We found that the #1 difference between banks with growing revenue vs. stagnating or declining revenues was that they were taking action on individual customer feedback. In fact, growth banks were 2x as likely to be taking action on individual customer feedback.

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Your customers hold the key to your revenue growth. Banks and credit unions that listen and respond to customers can act to improve customer experience today. But they're also positioned to tackle the changing needs of millennials and prepare for Generation Z—who will have a wholly new set of needs when they open their first checking accounts in the near future.

Sean McDade is the CEO and founder of PeopleMetrics, a customer experience management (CEM) company focused on finding actionable insights from customer feedback. 

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