Outside voices and views for advisers

For Millennials, 'life stops when the iPhone dies'

Lessons for advisers from the University of Wisconsin's recent commencement

May 30, 2014 @ 8:46 am

By Steve Sanduski

Referring to the very rich of the Gilded Age, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “They are different from you and me.” Likewise, the Millennials and Gen X are different from their baby boomer predecessors.

As a tail-end member of the boomer generation whose Millennial daughter just graduated from college, I can assure you — The next generation will alter the business landscape.

The question is, are you willing to change to accommodate them?


Sitting in the stands at Camp Randall Stadium for the University of Wisconsin's commencement ceremony on May 17, it was clear very quickly that the Millennial generation is far different from my baby boomer cohort.

Just as today's generation “graduates differently,” they will certainly “do business differently” over the next 30 years.

While I don't remember much from my college graduation many moons ago, I do know it was nothing like what I witnessed on a brisk, sunny day in Madison.

Technology is the big difference between the boomer generation and today's Millennials.

For example, while waiting for the commencement ceremony to start, the stadium JumboTron instructed us to tweet our messages and pictures using #uwgrad. Dutifully following instructions, one of my daughters tweeted a picture of my graduating daughter that had been taken earlier in the day.

And, just like magic, within five minutes, the picture showed up on the JumboTron for 40,000 people to see. Of course, we had to take a “picture of the picture” as it flashed on the big screen. This "picture of the picture" was then texted to my daughter sitting on the field with her fellow graduates. Within seconds, my graduating daughter texted back, “I saw it!!!”

Twitter seemed to be a common theme that ran throughout the ceremony. Toward the end, as one of the deans was introducing her graduating students, she asked them to stand. Quickly, the dean whipped out her camera, took a picture of her students and gleefully blurted, “I want to be the first dean to live tweet from the podium.” Check that off the bucket list.

Back on my graduation day, there was no commercial Internet, no readily available mobile phones or digital cameras, and if you wanted to see the ceremony, you had to be there in person. Not today.

Just before my daughter's ceremony started, I caught wind that the event was being live-streamed. So, I quickly called my mom and dad, shared the streaming address with them and hoped for the best. At age 80 and 84, they couldn't make the 500-mile trip to see their granddaughter graduate.

After the ceremony, my mom sent me an e-mail that said, “We each watched the whole graduation on our iPads. That was awesome … best seats in the house!”

(I think my parents are just as hip as the live-tweeting dean!)

Streaming technology makes it easy for you as an adviser to work with clients who are comfortably lounging in their home or hanging on the beach (or maybe that's you at home or on the beach!). Gone are the days when you have to meet in person. And, if my octogenarian parents are comfortable watching a live stream from their iPad, you can be darn sure Millennials will be one or two-upping that.

Change Question: Are you offering video chats as a meeting option or live-streaming your events?


Two other things happened at the ceremony that help define how this generation is a bit different from the boomers — but these two were not technology related.

First, Millennials are all about personalization. They grew up personalizing their iPod playlists, their Starbucks drinks, their cellphone cases and a myriad of other personal items. Many of the graduating students even personalized their mortarboards with designs and sayings that ranged from funny to touching. My daughter included.

Change Question: What are you doing to meet the “personalized” needs of the next generation?

Second, this generation likes to “Jump Around.” To get my point, watch this hilarious short video from the Wisconsin commencement ceremony.

Yes, these kids like to have fun. Of course, we all like to have fun. The difference is that, for Millennials, having fun is all about the experience, the memories and documenting it on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Change Question: What are you doing to make the “experience” of financial planning fun, engaging and worth sharing on social media?


If you think that in the future, planning will all happen through your computer, think again. It will happen through your phone, your glasses, or possibly something else that hasn't even been invented yet. At the graduation ceremony, the mobile phone was the device of choice.

That said, technology won't replace the need for humans to interact with one another in the planning process. However, it will replace advisers who refuse to get on board and use technology to support, enhance and facilitate the planning process and client experience.

One graduating student summed it up best when we ran in to her toward the end of a long day of pomp and circumstance. Picking up her phone to tap one more picture, she noticed it was out of juice. Without skipping a beat, she said, “Life stops when the iPhone dies.”

That may be an exaggeration but folks, make no mistake. Millennials do things differently. The good news is, it's not too late to adjust your business to accommodate the way they want to do business. The biggest obstacle is not figuring out how to integrate new technology. It's overcoming your resistance to change and giving up doing things the way you've always done them.

While Millennials may not have much money today, they will inherit the boomers' loot, so you need to be ready. Make your business changes now so that you can operate from a position of strength. If you don't, you'll be transferring your profits to advisers who do.

Steve Sanduski is a New York Times bestselling author and president of Belay Advisor. Follow him on Twitter @SteveSanduski


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