Move Over Millennials…Here comes Gen Z!


By: Joe Woods, Vice President, Sales & Relationship Management

I spend a lot of time traveling the country.  For me, air travel is time to catch up on reading, writing, and all things administrative (okay, and a few in-flight movies).

On a recent trip I came across a great read by Allison Kaplan regarding Generation Z.  I found the article, “The Next Generation Gap,” in the April issue of Delta Sky magazine.  The article cited research from David and Jonah Stillman. Then I read Preston Packer’s article for CUINSIGHT entitled “Is Your Credit Union Prepared for World War (GEN) Z?” What I read in these two articles caught me off guard.

We’ve spent the last decade focusing all of our attention on the Millennial (Gen Y) generation.  We’ve studied their traits and habits. We’ve assessed their likes and dislikes.  And now that we feel we have a good handle on this group of 80+ million Americans, here comes a whole new generation of potential credit union members:  Generation Z.

Most of us have been lumping these two generations together.  But, it is important to note that the majority of the Millennials are already in their thirties.  They’ve gotten jobs (or are sleeping on your couch), they are borrowing and depositing money, like you and I, and they are having their own children.  In fact, nearly half of Millennials are now parents themselves.  So, from a credit union perspective, they are in peak borrowing years.  Gen Z is just about to jump into the work force for the first time this summer.  They will be establishing themselves as independent for the first time.

Each generation has tendencies and traits unique to that specific group.  Generations are shaped by the significant events that occur during their development, as well as the attitudes of the generation that parents them.  These tendencies aren’t guarantees, but they do help us focus our marketing and advertising strategy.

So, what significant events occurred during the early years for Generation Z? Here’s a brief list:

  • The terrorist attacks of 9/11
  • The Boston Marathon bombing
  • The mortgage-backed securities downfall
  • The housing crisis starting in 2007
  • The bailout of banks deemed “too big to fail”
  • The Dodd-Frank Bill and Durbin Amendment
  • A Republican to Democrat switch in the oval office (and now back to Republican)

What would a generation learn from these major events?

  • Nothing can be taken for granted (terrorist attacks in our homeland)
  • If it sounds too good to be true it probably is (mortgage lending & investment crisis)
  • The big banks and our government don’t play by their own rules (bank bailout)
  • Sweeping governmental change has little effect on the greater good (Durbin & the Oval office)

So, this generation has learned some hard lessons early on. And it has shaped their outlook for the future.  They’ve learned not to have blind faith in large institutions that claim to be looking out for their best interest.  They understand that they will have to work hard to achieve and accomplish goals.  And they’ve learned that they may have to do it on their own.

I’m fortunate enough to be raising three members of Generation Z with my wife, Sharon.  My wife and I are from Generation X:  Home to Pearl Jam and the grunge rock era, the rise and fall of tech stocks, genetically modified foods, and the global warming/cooling debate.

So, what have we imparted on our Gen Z offspring?  They know that if you want something, you’re going to have to go get it.  Your own personal effort is all that you can truly control.  We’ve taught them to be skeptical of typical marketing approaches.  They are learning to ask questions and not to blindly take someone at their word.  They are cautious but assertive.

My ten-year-old son recently threw out his participation medals.  He told us he didn’t earn them so they weren’t worth keeping.  This was a significant moment for me.  My fourth-grader had come to the realization that participating, or ‘just showing up,’ wasn’t enough.  It was the work he put in that mattered to him.  That doesn’t mean that our children don’t complain when we remind them to do their chores.  They’re kids—not robot angels.  But, does anyone really enjoy dusting or taking out the trash?

My kids can’t stand TV commercials.  In fact, we’re cutting cable because they would rather watch their shows on Netflix, Amazon Prime, and YouTube.  Everywhere they go, there is a technological element.  They use their smartphones for school research.  They FaceTime with their grandparents and cousins.  They post pictures on multiple smartphone apps to keep in contact with friends.  David Skillman calls it “phigital”.  Everything Generation Z does physically will have a digital element.

Now, in this crazy thing we call life, my kids are a step ahead, because they know about credit unions.  Honestly, given my sixteen years in the industry, they’re probably tired of hearing me talk about the movement.  But, for those kids who have parents that bank on the dark side, how we reach out and what we say is the key.  And the depth of our story matters.  My kids want to have an impact and contribute to a better society.  Companies like Tom’s shoes speak to them because of their effort to make the world a better place.

So, how is your credit union working to make the world a better place?  It’s not a tough question to answer.  You may not give a free pair of shoes away with every loan, but our cooperative effort speaks to them.  Tell Gen Z about the good you do, how it helps them directly and how they can get involved.


Author: The Credit Union Exchange

CULIANCE is a CUSO that draws its strength from inclusion not size. As an alliance of credit unions, we believe that together credit unions can accomplish so much more than they can alone. We’re devoted to the purpose and the potential of the credit union community, and are continually pursuing ways to engage, support, and inspire it. Our state-of-the-art, affordable products and services are developed to ensure you meet the demands of an ever-changing, dynamic financial services industry so that you can better compete and help improve your members’ lives. For more information, please visit or call (877) 570-2824.

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