Amidst all the attention given to baby boomers and millennials, who vastly outnumber us, it is easy to forget about my generation, Gen X. This group is generally considered to be those of us born between 1965 and 1980: a time of uncertainty in everything from politics to economics; a time when there were only three major television networks; and a time when no one called the police if children were left in the car by themselves. These conditions have not only affected the lens through which we learned to view the world, but also our approach to managing our finances.
Now here we are in our 40s and 50s, many of us in the apex of our careers, while possibly raising our kids and/or caring for our aging parents. Did I mention we’re also known to be active philanthropically? If ever there was a group of people who needed financial planning and advice tailored to their needs, it’s us. Yet, like Jan Brady and middle children everywhere, we often go overlooked. This post offers some insight and advice to advisors who serve Gen X clients, from someone who still wants her MTV.
Give us technology.
Gen Xers were the first gamers, the first kids to have computers in our homes and schools, and we turned out a number of geeks who changed the world as we know it: Amazon, Google and YouTube were all started by Gen Xers. We are technologically adept, so please introduce us to the tools you have available. If your RIA has a self-service portal, we definitely want to know about it. This also serves the purpose of overcoming our innate skepticism. I want to believe you, but I’d feel a lot better if I could run the numbers myself. Transparency goes a long way toward building my loyalty.
Expect the unexpected.
There’s something only Gen X can understand about being a kid during the Cold War. When you lay your head down at night wondering if you’ll wake up in the morning or if a deadly missile will have been launched by then, you tend to live in the moment. Gen Xers adapt well to change because we never counted on things being static and predictable. In our adolescence, we thought it was cool not to have a plan, but what we really need now is multiple “what if” scenarios for all the things life might throw our way. We doubt we’ll be able to rely on Social Security. We’re not convinced our kids will go to a four-year university after high school. We’ve even thought about quitting our corporate jobs and becoming entrepreneurs. Help us understand what each of those situations might look like.
Talk and listen.
Examining our upbringing as the first latchkey kids, it’s not hard to understand why independence is a common trait among Gen Xers. At age 12, and sometimes younger, we’d be trusted to babysit multiple kids for a whole night — without cell phones. And so long as you made curfew, you could go anywhere your bicycle would take you. Self-sufficient and resourceful? Yes, we have those qualities in spades. So while many boomers may look to experts — whether financial, medical or otherwise — to tell them what’s what, we Gen Xers have more questions and are more likely to push back. We don’t want to be given advice the same way our parents were. Seek to understand our individualized views and experiences, and then help us prioritize our goals.
In summary, we Gen Xers have a diverse set of goals that need achieving, and enough complexity that it makes sense for advisors to help us get there. We won’t accept your guidance with blind faith, but we’re accustomed to dealing with variable situations, and not scared to dig into the numbers with you. If you can serve us in the way that works for us, you’ll create lasting relationships. Brushing up on some John Hughes film references wouldn’t hurt, either.