Millennials prefer email for financial services - duh?

Den Howlett Profile picture for user gonzodaddy April 15, 2015
Recent research says that millennials overwhelmingly prefer email as their communications method when dealing with financial service professionals. Duh?

Using the catchily titled To Speak Millennial, Use Email, Marketingland says:

Surprisingly, Millennials have a preference in how they want to converse with brands, and it’s not through social media.

This is an incorrect conclusion. The study to which the writer refers was for financial services in the US market and not brands more generally. These are the key trends it identified:

  • If Millennials were to purchase a financial product, nearly half (47%) would prefer to use a Financial Professional either in person or on the phone for their product purchase. More than a third (38%) would prefer to purchase financial products online.
  • Nearly a third of Millennials preferred method to learn and plan for retirement is through their retirement plan provider’s website (31%). Two out of ten (22%) Millennials preferred method to plan for retirement is with a Financial Professional.
  • Half (50%) of Millennials also view a financial services company’s website and/or Facebook page when trying to make a financial decision.
  • More than 80% of Millennials use Facebook and Google, four out of 10 (40%) use Instagram and just over a third (35%) use Pinterest each week. Websites that are starting to gain attraction among Millennials include, LearnVest and HelloWallet.

millennial passion

It just so happens that the overwhelming preferred method of communication is email. One point the author misses which is critical to an overall understanding: 67% will act on the recommendations of friends and family in the process of finding an advisor with only 9% searching online.

It is at this point that Marketingland gets inventive about the email thing in a breezy kind of way:

But what else may account for the durable appeal of email with Millennials? For one thing, it’s a familiar, dependable tool that’s device-agnostic.

It may also be about the type of interaction email provides. It’s an arm’s-length tool for interfacing with their insurance agent, their accountant or the bank that owns their student loans, as well as with the newsletters or loyalty programs they’ve signed on with. None get to trespass the circle of strong (or weak) ties that make up their personal network.

The survey didn't pose those questions but there is other data within the survey from which inferences can be drawn, supplemented by other empirical data about millennials thinking around the workplace.

The survey notes that the overwhelming concern among millennials is in living from paycheck to paycheck. This group also ranks raising and providing for a family well above other considerations. That jibes tangentially with research saying that compensation is the number one driver in employment choice.

Then we have to consider who are candidates for a survey that is aimed at millennials who may be looking for financial products. These are almost certainly going to be people who are employed and who are already using email as a matter of course in commercial transactions.

In the survey, 65% would use finance professionals to help develop a plan that meets their financial goals. Can you imagine trying to do that using social channels? What about all the document attachments that might be needed? Would you expect a Dropbox link?

In work done by Luis Suarez, he was able to almost completely eliminate his internal email at IBM. It took years. But it was not the same with external email. Just think about it.

Email is the lowest common denominator for commercial communication, even where that is business to consumer. You have to actively 'friend' people on Twitter and Facebook in order to make direct communication. Are you going to do that? How does this make sense when you want a commercial relationship and not a friendship?

The bottom line is that Marketingland has misunderstood this survey. You can argue that working with financial advisors is a quasi marketing exercise but that's not what the survey is seeking to establish. If you take the whole of what they're saying you can chunk it into three distinct parts:

  1. Discovery - how would people find professionals? Answer - personal recommendation as you'd expect from any professional service.
  2. Need - how do people define the needs they have and expect to see those fulfilled in a professional relationship?
  3. Execution - how do people expect the process of advisory to play out?

The fact that people will prefer email is therefore unsurprising as is the discovery that folk will research online. After all, Googling has entered the modern lexicon. And to give you an idea how boneheaded Marketingland's correspondent really is in this analysis, check out the final two paragraphs:

The real lesson is that the requirement for consumer-centric marketing arrived in relentless force with Millennials, and will only intensify among the generations arriving after them. They’re the ones driving the adoption and evolution of new platforms, and dictating new ways of relating to brands and businesses.

For email marketers, incorporating Big Data or other tools for providing total personalization with each recipient or subscriber isn’t a mandate handed down by technologists or marketing strategists. It’s what the next generation in line demands. Ignore it at your own risk.

I can't find any evidence in the report or its conclusions to suggest either of the writer's assertions in the report findings. Confusing email marketing with what the report was endeavoring to tease out is dangerous as are conclusions that bear little resemblance to reality.

Just to cap this one off, here is a graphic summarizing research by Charlene Li, who has probably been more active on social channels and corporate adoption than anyone else in the public domain:

corporate social networks

Assuming Li's research to be credible - and there is no reason not to do so given the many anecdotal reports we see, then it is difficult to know how anyone could possibly make the connection the author is seeking to conflate. The reasons underpinning the findings are even more telling:

The problem was simple and obvious – because the top executives didn’t see collaboration and engagement as a good use of their time, employees quickly learned that they shouldn’t either.

It therefore doesn't matter if they engage with brands via social media in their private lives - whatever that means. When we are talking about commercial transactions at the B2C level, the old rules apply because the nature of the transaction mimics what is expected in the workplace. At least that;'s my working theory.

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