Be a teacher, not a preacher — how to shape your service model to work for millennials

I remember when I started my career as a financial advisor. The hunger to learn everything about the business and management of portfolios was palpable. One day I stopped into the office of one of the largest producers in my company to see if he would be willing to answer client questions about options trading. I vividly remember him telling me that the complexities of options were way out of my league, and that I should "partner” with him if I ever wanted to sell an option. He said, “You see, the key to selling complex products is showing clients how little they understand.” I got three words in during our entire conversation and much of the wind was taken out of my sails that day.

Some of our success as financial advisors comes from differentiating ourselves from other service providers in the market. However, your expertise and knowledge, which serves as a signal of your value, can also become subtle condescension if the intent is communicated improperly. Successfully obtaining and retaining millennial clients, most clients for that matter, requires relatable marketing content, a comfortable delivery method, and succinct messaging across multiple media. So, how do we accomplish this?

Be relatable

Hopefully, the story that I began with brings up a similar emotive story of your own. Being relatable to a millennial audience comes from having a genuine message that's centered on an understanding of millennial investors' specific needs. In doing so, we are reframing our value proposition. It's a subtle shift, from a financial advisor who has access to information that clients do not, to being a financial advisor who can sift through a bevy of information and help clients determine what is relevant to their financial roadmaps. Telling clients that they can’t plan without you doesn’t quite create the same value as showing them and helping them understand that they won't want to. Relatability entails showing millennials that you understand the needs of their generation and are willing to be both authentic and a little unconventional in communicating with them.

Be informal

Meeting clients where they are, and yet expertly guiding them through the financial complexities of their lives is a fine balance. Historically, interaction with clients took place in person and over the phone. A recent study from the Beddoes Institute shows that millennials are twice as likely as boomer clients to prefer informal catch-ups, and half as likely as boomers to prefer formal meetings at an advisor’s office.* This doesn’t mean that you have to schedule meetings in Chuck Taylors, faded jeans, and a T-shirt. It is more subtle than the way you dress or the slang you use.

Shifting toward a more open-ended client structure could simply mean conducting a meeting using a round-table office setting, or at a coffee shop. It could also include doing segmented planning in an online medium, or the co-creation of a financial plan. Make meetings less hierarchical, and more about discovery and achieving financial objectives together. Sometimes this shift in approach can be achieved easily by asking yourself, what would a client say after meeting with me the first time?

Be now

The millennial generation has grown up inundated with information from every direction — social media, television, print media, billboards, and even the clothes they wear. This means that your client communication has to be succinct, and also come across multiple delivery channels. Start by developing three key brand differentiators about the way you approach relationships with clients. An example statement might be: We understand and react to relevant financial information so you can live your life informed and financially ready.

A brand message like this becomes a prospecting tool, hitting many eyes at once, when you become a "source" of relevant financial information and provide it to both prospects and clients on social media. You don’t have to be an originator of information to leverage a successful social media campaign. Think of the best content items you engage with during your day.  Could they be relevant to share with a group of clients?

This can also percolate down to one-to-one communication with a current client through a meeting, phone call, blog, or electronic newsletter, showing how his or her plan is evolving in the midst of changing economic circumstances. The key is to have a core message, broadcast across multiple channels, that is consistently conveyed to an audience ranging from prospects, to multiple clients, to a single client interaction.

As of this year, the millennial generation is the largest living consumer cohort. Millennials are now forming brand impressions and loyalty as they move through their accumulation years. Speaking “with” this generation, and not “at” it, requires a genuine desire to help them, centered on a vision that includes them.

Nathan Harness, Ph.D., CFP® is the TD Ameritrade Director of Financial Planning at Texas A&M University.

*R. Sheils, A. Tucker, B. Fox, and R. Dunkerley, Connecting With Clients: Solving the Communication Matrix for Financial Advice Practices (July 2015). Retrieved Oct. 26, 2015.

Investment professionals should consult their compliance department before accessing any social media networks for business purposes.

This content is for informational purposes only and is not an endorsement of any app, service, or publicly traded company. It is also not a recommendation to buy or sell a particular security.

All third-party marks cited are the property of their respective owners.

Receive updates from The Evolving Advisor

Subscribe to our quarterly newsletter for the latest in practice management.

Privacy statement


Evolve and engage

View archive

Contact us

Sales desk: 877 693-3546