Last month I was asked to moderate a panel at a wealth management conference. The title of the panel was: “Millennials, technology, and their impact in the family and in the family office”. It was the first time I heard of an “anthropological” topic in a wealth management conference. It was a glad surprise as I believe all work done on a family office is related to family dynamics.
I accepted it as a challenge as I am not an expert in the subject. I was very lucky to be introduced to Pastor Erick Isaac, a millennial himself, with a background in anthropology. My conversation with him was enlightening and extremely useful for my panel discussion.
We started by talking about the millennials. All I had heard about millennials was negative: their lack of interest, lack of ambition, lack of commitment. On the other hand, you see all these new fantastic ventures started by millennials using new ideas, a new way of looking at the world, a deep understanding of their market. They just have a different way of looking at the world
What is about millennials that make them so different and make them clash with other generations?
Who are they?
Chronologically they are the people born between 1981 and 2002
However most important, are the specific world events they experienced: September 11 attack and the economic recession of 2005 onwards.
September 11 is a key event in the life of a millennial. The idea they had of the world dramatically changed in one day. There is the safety issue: “I am not safe”, the world is no longer a safe environment. There is also a deep sense of lack of confidence in their leaders. Let’s remember that after the attack, everybody had doubts about it. There was a lot of speculation.
At the end, for millennials, their leaders failed to protect them.
Given the above, from a political perspective, millennials do not follow the classic pattern of bipartisan leadership. They look for a change. As a result, we see the surge of leaders as Bernie Sanders and Rand Paul, two completely opposite views, two old men with extremist ideas backed by a generation of young people. Millennials want to change the status quo. It is no longer fulfilling their needs and their idea of what their leaders should be.
They believe in a whole new form of economy: Charitable capitalism.
Their value for business is “being real”. Have you noticed the surge of the world artisan? It is a synonym of authentic. Millennials look for authenticity as “their whole life has been fake”. That’s the key element new businesses are trying to portray appealing to millennials. A great example of charitable capitalism is Toms Shoes. Companies like Everlane show the customer every cost involved in their product, they are being authentic.
In systems theory, an individual behavior cannot be understood aside from the system in which he operates. This system is the family.
The family of the millennials is different from the families of previous generations.
Millennials parents are either Gen X or late baby boomers who experienced good economic years during the 80s and 90s. Some kept only one job, or worked less hours to dedicated more time to the child. As any generation, they wanted their children to be better than them, but not only that, they wanted their kids to be “special”
They spent more time with kids, take different jobs which allowed them to be with them. The level of involvement of the parents increased.
The premise of “you are special” make parents look for the best for their kids, and that was a college degree. 90% of millennials have a college degree, while 30% have a masters’ degree. However, when they get out of college they find themselves with a very hostile work environment, very few opportunities and low salaries. This reinforces their idea that their whole life had been a “fake”.
Millennials were raised afraid of the world which was no longer “safe”, pampered at home, and have a great education. But they don’t get the jobs “they deserve”. A sense of entitlement is noticed.
The protecting environment creates an extended adolescence. Most millennials still live with their parents until 28 years old.
An extended adolescence means extended parenting.
When we see working environments as those in Google with the bean bags and the colorful décor, we wonder how different they are to the strict cubicles we were used to. But there is a reason behind them. Google is a great employer for millennials because they have extended the family environment to the office. If you want to be a good boss for millennials you must have parenting skills.
Lastly, we have the third element: the internet.
The internet is the biggest invention of the 20th century and has created a dramatic effect on families and in generations to come.
The role of the family has always been to be the agent of socialization and the primary source of influence behind the formation of personality and the growth of the child.
This is not true for millennials. Millennials don’t ask their parents
They get all their knowledge from the internet, but they don’t know what to do with that knowledge. They have knowledge but not wisdom. They lack action.
They exist in a world where the parent doesn’t exist. Therefore, the parents’ role in the life of a teenager has declined from 50% to 10%
Is impossible for parents to keep up with their kids. Savvy parents should create a save environment: a space for kids to bring their ideas, all the information they get from the internet, so they can get meaning.
Good parents don’t do it all by themselves, they connect the teenager to other people so they can become wise and learn to use the information.
They need support groups to process all the data they have. They need mentors, coaches, a big brother, etc.
And then you have the second life millennials have on the internet, where they can be a completely different person. Their models are internet personalities with lives completely different. Lives guided by values completely different to those of their parents.
Can you imagine the confusion? I do not live in a safe environment. I am special but I cannot find a job. My leaders have failed me, I cannot believe in the government. My role models are internet personalities with lives where my parents’ values do not have any importance. No wonder, they need extended parenting.
This was supposed to be a wealth management topic and for me it was a discovery of one of the most fascinating generations.
From a family office point of view what can be done for families with millennials. The advisor should help the parents create the safe environment their kids need. Help them turn their knowledge into wisdom.
Be a coach, a mentor for these kids. Be authentic, explain your values and why they are important. Just listen. This generation is changing the status quo, we will learn from them more of what they will learn from us.
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