Millennials: Forward-Looking Lessons

Noah Wilcox, a fourth generation community banker from Minnesota, shares his take on the newest, largest customer base: the Millennial generation. Wilcox is the president and CEO at Grand Rapids State Bank and CEO at Minnesota Lakes Bank. You can reach him on Twitter at @NWWilcox.

Forget to pay the cable bill? TV’s overrated. Disregard the forecast before traveling to Minnesota? Unfortunate, but manageable. Put off tomorrow what you could be doing to build your Millennial customer base today? Do so at your own peril.

This digital-savvy, 80 million-strong group of individuals (born between 1977 and 1995) wield a reported $200 billion in annual buying power and are poised to generate the greatest lifetime value of any banking customer (thanks to their numbers and education levels). But will they choose to bank with you? Maybe, according to Visa Market Research and Insights. Seventy-seven percent of surveyed individuals aged 18 to 34 said they are willing to bank at a non-financial services company compared to just 28 percent of individuals aged 56 or older.

At Grand Rapids State Bank we’re hoping to earn their business by tapping into how they want to bank with us so we can help fund their significant lifestyle milestones along the way—first car, first home, first small-business loan.

Take social media, for instance. It’s not just something Millennials ding around with on their phone. It’s a bona fide delivery channel that we’ve leveraged to promote local events, field customer inquiries, and of course, reinforce our brand. These channels need to be cultivated and monitored, for the benefit of this new up-and-coming crop of customers as well as our existing customer base.

This is the generation that witnessed the harsh lessons of their parents about overextending and that now leans toward debit over credit. This is the generation that gave birth to smartphones and tablets, which is why we’re working on deposit accounts that can be opened and funded online. And it’s the generation that, when polled by ICBA about whether they’d rather meet the president of the United States or the president of a local bank, opted for the latter.

Perhaps all of this is a testament to Millennials’ innate desire to start their own businesses. After all, Millennials are by far the most entrepreneurial generation, according to ICBA’s Millennial study, in which 41 percent reported they were “very interested” in starting up their own business and nearly a quarter earned at least part of their income from a business they own or have a stake in.

Or perhaps they’re like 26-year-old Jewel Burks, co-founder of Partpic and featured in Forbes’ 2016 “30 under 30” listing, who said, “The big thing that I want in starting a company is to make a difference in my community.”

Well, if there’s anyone who can reach out and help her and other Millennials do that, it’s a local community banker. After all, she’s already met President Obama.

As for the Millennials I serve, this much I’ve learned: no good deed goes unnoticed. A note greeted me this morning from a customer commending our support for the arts in Grand Rapids, Minn. He was surprised a business would understand the impact of art on the community. I was moved that he would take the time to acknowledge our efforts. So for those wondering if the community bank model resonates with Millennials, I’d say you have your answer.

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