WTF is a millennial and why are banks so obsessed with them?

Is a millennial someone who has survived for a thousand years? Is it someone beamed to earth on the 31st of December 1999? A person who was born after the release of the  awful Robbie Williams album Millennium? Or the bogeyman for banking?

The word millennial It is bandied around willy nilly by people who mostly don’t fit into its vague definition. It is used as the threat that faces banks today ‘build services fit for the digital world or the millennials will leave and avoid you‘. It has more definitions than cloud computing and look how well understood and abused that vaporous vernacular is.

The Wikipedia article on Millenials clears it all up

‘Millennials (also known as the Millennial Generation or Generation Y) are the demographic cohort following Generation X. There are no precise dates when the generation starts and ends. Researchers and commentators use birth years ranging from the early 1980s to the early 2000s.

I say clears it up, it says that they might be people born 20 years apart. Do you like being put into segmented pots with people two decades older than you? My parents are just over two decades older than me.

Another thing which irks me is that there never seems to be reference to any country of residence or birth. The term (and it’s oft used partner in crime Generation Y) seems to have originated from the US, not a nation renowned for its geographic knowledge or consideration *cough* World Series *cough*.

It seems to me that a millennial is a person of unknown origin, upbringing, sex, religion, race, profession who may have been born between 1980 and 2000 but they know loads about technology and we need to build digital services to meet their unquenchable thirst for realtime, anywhere access and control.

Why are they so important? Is it because they are wealthy? Is it because they are the biggest market segment? Is it because they are young (depending on your application the millenial age range) and cool? I have no idea why they are so desired and so important.

I think my main annoyance is that these mythical and ill defined people (actually have we confirmed they are humans?) are seemingly used to inform strategies and designs for financial services products and services (and so much more). They are the straw men (gender?) used to sell the need for digital services fit for the brave new world populated just by the millennials. I know marketing has worked like this for decades but it does not make it any less annoying to someone who does not understand it’s seemingly mythical ways.

Does this take us down a path where we are designing for these people who don’t exist? Are we distracted by thoughts of ‘Will the millennials like this? Will it make us look attractive to the millennials?’. Is it marketing campaign targeting segmentation applied to far more than it should be?

Should we be so focused on them at all? I mean are they really that important? Great opening paragraph from this Guardian article

Falling birthrates and the lengthening lives of baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964 produce an extraordinary statistic. On current trends, from now until 2037, while the numbers of those aged 15 to 64 in the UK will grow on average by 29,000 a year, the numbers of people aged 65 and over will rise by 278,800 a year, according to the thinktank International Longevity Centre – UK.

Is the iPhone or iPad a device for millennials? Ever seen an 18 month old or an 80 year old use one?  iOS and its partnering touch based hardware interfaces has taken away the computing from computing. It has democratised access and understanding for all ages. Banking should focus on that not such an ill defined subset of people.

I will tell you what I reckon millennials want. They want the same things as all human beings. Really bloody good product, service and interface design. Accessible by and built for all. Yes there are behaviours and features that some generations and personality types and backgrounds might desire or partake in more readily but get the main things right please.  I am not saying all segmentation and research is pointless. I am just saying overusing its divisions and taking it at such a simplistic level and then applying it so widely renders it meaningless.

The bottom line is banking is about spending, lending, saving, investing the easier to perform, understand and build upon those things the more financial services will be suitable for the next millennia for each and every lazy market segment definition.


alexdown says:

“Really bloody good product, service and interface design. Accessible by and built for all.”

Yet “our target customers are not millennials” is used almost every day to justify/ excuse poor products, especially **digital** products (app, websites, etc)

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