Walk into any financial or insurance office and you’re bound to see a diverse group of individuals. From suit-donning, gray-haired executives carrying leather-bound portfolios, to tennis-shoe-wearing 20-somethings with iPads in hand, to middle-age leaders lugging their laptops from meeting to meeting. This generational divide among at least the three largest groups (baby boomers, Gen X and millennials) is causing meeting planners to take notice and determine the best way to engage these distinct groups in their next event.
According to Sarah Sladek, author of Knowing Y: Engage the Next Generation Now (Association Management Press, U.S. 2014) and CEO of XYZ University, the three largest generations in the work force today are baby boomers, Generation X and millennials — also known as Generation Y. The Generation Zs are turning 19 this year, so we’ll start hearing more about them in the next year or so as they begin moving into college and careers.
“The ‘distinct group’ everyone is talking about is the millennials, because this year they became the majority of the work force,” Sladek says. “This is a monumental shift considering boomers have been the majority of the work force for 34 years.”
“The ‘distinct group’ everyone is talking about is the millennials, because this year they became the majority of the work force.”
— Sarah Sladek
Millennials are beginning to dominate the work force, and though the majority have just entered the job market or have recently stepped into early leadership roles, soon they’ll be the key decision-makers. Engage them in unique, fun and impressionable events now, and you’ll be building a mutually beneficial relationship for the future, say the experts.
Millennials are distinct for several reasons: They are the largest generation in history; the first generation of the post-industrial era and the first generation never to have known life without access to technology. In addition, they are the best-educated and most diverse generation in history; the most protected, supervised and provided-for generation; the first generation to be rewarded for participation and not achievement; and they came of age during one of the worst recessions our country has ever observed, which has left them the most debt-ridden generation in history.
So how do financial and insurance planners entice millennials to partake in meetings and events in an industry that has been profoundly inundated by the baby boomers and Generation X individuals?
Tamra Fairbrother, CMP, CMM, CUDE, vice president of training and events at Cornerstone Credit Union League, says that although she orchestrates meetings geared specially toward their young professionals or their board volunteers, they also have conferences that blend education across all generations.
“We ensure we have various tracks set up to meet the needs of everyone,” Fairbrother says. “Our larger events have an event app that is gaining usage with each opportunity. The app lists the schedule, speaker information and gives them push notifications during the event of reminders or possible changes. Although the younger generation is known for their utilization of technology, we are finding that with instruction, we are gaining ground with other members as well. At our upcoming annual meeting next April in Oklahoma City, we will add CU Talks in place of a breakout session. These short yet though-provoking sessions are sure to engage the audience.”
Fairbrother believes that having a designated Young Professionals Conference appeals to the millennials and gives them the forum for peer-to-peer networking at various career levels.
“At the same time, we provide education sessions at our annual meeting not only for the younger professionals but for the volunteer as well,” Fairbrother says. “This is of course in addition to other tracks for specific career fields.”
In addition, Fairbrother says “cause-related” opportunities at events are often popular as well.
“We work to incorporate CSR (corporate social responsibility) events at our larger meetings and we find that millennials are always eager to lend a hand or make a donation,” Fairbrother says.
Ann Fishman, president of NYC-based Generational Targeted Marketing who wrote and published Marketing to the Millennial Woman (August, 2015), operates a specialized marketing firm that provides insights into the preferences, trends and buying habits of each of America’s generations. Fishman says that it is important that meeting and event planners in the insurance and financial arenas don’t think of boomers as old.
“They picture themselves 10 to 15 years younger than their chronological age,” Fishman says. “They expect to be treated special. Give prizes like spa treatments. These people need R&R. They juggle aging parents, themselves, children and grandchildren. Build that into your meetings. This group loves music from the ’60s, but that will probably turn off every other generation present.”
Likewise, Fishman says millennials travel in groups. So give discounts if they bring friends and colleagues.
“Teach them skills to move them ahead, again, like how to give a speech, run a meeting, network and negotiate. Give out goody bags full of fun stuff,” Fishman says. “Millennials have been team-taught, team-graded, and rewarded for showing up for team sports. They love the bonding that goes into team activities, such as rock climbing as part of the teambuilding exercise. Hotels with pod seating in the lobbies encourage socialization with this group-oriented generation. Offer a yoga class and a seminar on how to handle student debt for you and your clients.”
When planning events and meetings for his firm, Morling Financial Advisors, Victor Huang has found that millennials have been more engaged when the events the firm has planned have had an educational aspect to them.
“We’ve been doing happy-hour themed events in conjunction with the educational piece,” Huang says. “It’s something that is very familiar to this specific group: food and drinks after a day of work. This means our meeting venues are private rooms in bars that are nearby their workplace, serving beer and finger foods. It’s also a space that conveys conversation and relationship building, which is exactly the feel that we want in these types of events. We also make sure that these venues are near popular streets or near public transportation for convenience.”
However, Huang has found that when they only had social events without an educational piece, there was less followup afterwards.
“I think the problem with these events was that it was fun, but it did not convey our expertise and how we could address their needs in a practical way. This also meant no trust was built, even though everyone had a good time,” Huang says.
Chartered Professional Accountants of Ontario’s conferences and events offer different formats of learning to engage the broad age range of attendees. They include a mix of learning styles at their events — ranging from traditional and formal presentations, to hands-on workshops, and TED Talk-style shorter keynotes.
“We engage our members by profiling keynote speakers from outside of the accounting and finance industry, who have a broader business appeal,” says Cameal Soverall, CMP, CMM, manager of conferences and events at CPA of Ontario. “At some events we offer live-streaming and webinars. We also incorporate a social media campaign into all of our events, such as Twitter chats with speakers before the event, live tweeting and twitter feed during the event, and conference apps and social media contests.”
CPA of Ontario’s younger members, referred to as Young CPAs or YCPAs, are very receptive to technology — typical of most millennials.
“They are more inclined to download and use our event apps and participate in social media contests and are often easier to engage pre-event,” Soverall says. “Whereas our older members tend to prefer more traditional approaches to programming. For example, these members don’t like having to go online to access conference materials and would prefer to have handouts printed and distributed at events.”
Soverall also plans events specifically for the YCPAs or millennials. These events tend to focus more on topics around innovation, technology trends and personal branding, and the venues where these events are held are trendier, such a new restaurant or unique venue. Also, the format of these events is experiential, offering creative and unique experiences.
As Soverall has noticed, millennials are thirsty for knowledge, but they just learn in a different way. “Organizations that recognize this can adjust the format and content of their events to meet the needs of this group,” Soverall says. “Millennials are also collaborators who love being part of a team; work with them and have them participate in the discussion and planning of events.”
Melissa Erenberg, communications and education consultant at Assurance, one of the largest insurance brokerages in the U.S., also plans meetings and events for this nationwide insurance company. The strategies she’s seen fail across generations, specifically millennials, are boring communication collateral and presentations.
“In our industry, we’re PowerPoint-focused,” Erenberg says. “It definitely has a place in some presentations but it needs to be relied on less. People do not want to be read to. If you use it, or something similar, do not read from your slides. Let it just be a guide. Death by PowerPoint is real. Make insurance and financial education fun and interesting. Be charismatic when talking about it. Show video, add pictures and tell stories.”
It all comes back to knowing your audience and varying the media used to convey the messaging.
“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten,” Erenberg says. “In laymen’s terms, if you continue to communicate one way, you’re only going to be heard by a handful of people. Shake it up. Do something different, and spend time to make sure your message is received.”
Soverall says it is important to attract different members of different age groups because it allows financial and insurance companies and organizations to implement different meeting formats, which in turn helps them to better understand what motivates members of different generations. “The more we understand, the better equipped we are to meet their needs and offer learning environments that are more productive,” Soverall says.
The future of millennials at events will be increasingly digital. From social media capabilities, to digital invites, to mobile check-ins, millennials are craving to bridge the gap between face-to-face interaction and technology. They long to share their experiences online while it’s happening in person. The digital revolution will continue to transform events into a hybrid between both in-person and virtual interactions.
“Your outreaches will be more effective and easier if you understand the generational characteristics of each of America’s living generations,” Fishman says. “You will understand why you succeed with certain outreaches and how to duplicate that success, and you will learn how to avoid certain failures in your outreaches. It pays in so many ways to get to know America’s generations and their unique values, attitudes and lifestyles.” I&FMM