There has been a near obsession for almost a decade with trying to understand the Millennial Generation – how to cultivate them, how to bank them, whether they are, or could be profitable, etc. – But what about the generation which follows them? Known as Generation Z, born in or after 1995, nearly 60 million strong and almost 25% of the US population. They are and will be a forced to be reckoned with and there is a significant contrast between Gen Z and the Millennials.

Having had the pleasure of contributing content for the BankSocialMedia blog for most of the past year, when it came time to decide what the content of the fourth article in my Know Your Market series should be about – it was a no brainer – Gen Z. Further, my colleague Michaela Cagle, a self-professed late Millennial has contributed significantly to this article and much of it is from her perspective.

We often hear our clients express the desire to connect with and attract a younger customer base. Younger customers have a lifetime of financial needs that need to be met, and it’s great to get the relationship started early. These ‘younger customers’ are often considered to be Millennials, 21 to 36 year olds born between 1980 and 1995. They are the most researched generation in history, and often depicted as self-centered, tech-savvy over-sharers. While all this research has illuminated the quirks of Millennials, there is a new generation becoming increasingly more important to marketing efforts: Generation Z. They are already graduating from high school, entering the workforce, either through internships or full time jobs, and starting college, so who are these kids anyway?

So far in this series, we’ve discussed knowing your market and delivering valuable, engaging content tailored toward your target audience. Great social media and marketing efforts start with a goal, in this case, it’s attracting a younger customer base. The next steps are understanding whom your target market is and how to connect with them.

Who Is Generation Z?


Generation Z, Generation Homeland, Plurals, iGen

Birth Years

Mid 1990s to late 2000s; 1995 – 2010*


6 – 21


≈ 60 million US-born

Percent of US Population

> 25%

Key World Events

9/11, War on Terror, 2008 Recession


* There is some debate regarding the start of Gen Z, with differences ranging from 1994 to 2000
                                                            Sources: The New York Times, Deep Focus, Sparks&Honey

To better understand the dynamics and personality of a generation, it’s best to start by looking at the world in which they grew up. One defining difference between Millennials and Gen Zers is summed up by the role of technology during their youth. I’m (Michaela) a late Millennial (born at the end of 1993), on the cusp of the generational divide with Generation Z, yet I clearly remember a childhood without internet, smart phones, social media, and texting — my younger family members do not. Theirs was a childhood of high speed internet and social media, and their first phones were smart phones. Along with the major societal changes influenced by technology, pressing global matters, namely the economy and War on Terror, further divide the two generations. Millennials had the relatively stable childhoods of the 1980s and 1990s, that were then interrupted by the dotcom bubble, 9/11, and the 2008 recession, leaving them feeling disenchanted. Generation Z, however, grew up in a time of uncertainty and volatility. Enhanced airport security, terrorist attacks, instant information, and high unemployment rates have always been a factor in their lives.

These differences have led to three key characteristics that set Generation Z apart. They are digital natives, pragmatic, and entrepreneurial.

They are Digital Natives

Members of Generation Z grew up with iPhones as their first tech gadget. They can seamlessly multitask across apps and devices, and it’s always been this way for them. They are the first true digital natives and navigating ever-changing technology is an innate skill. Not only are they good at using technology, they may even be addicted to it. As one thirteen-year-old girl stated during a CNN special report, “I would rather not eat for a week than have my phone taken away.” While Millennials are often considered to be tech-savvy, using two screens and quickly adapting to new technologies, the average Gen Z-er uses five screens. Millennials moved from flip phones to iPhones during young adulthood. Generation Z learned to navigate smart phones as children.

They are Pragmatic

The uncertainty and volatility of Gen Z’s childhood has created a generation that values rational choices. They saw the struggles of Millennials, such as older siblings or relatives who graduated from college and moved back in with their parents and continue to flounder financially.

In a 2015 New York Times article, 17-year-old high school student Seimi Park stated, “I definitely think growing up in a time of hardship, global conflict and economic troubles has affected my future… I think I can speak for my generation when I say that our optimism has long ago been replaced with pragmatism.” Park, whose has always been interested in fashion, has recently changed her career goals, looking for stability in a legal career. According to Sparks&Honey, 1 in 2 Gen Z-ers will graduate from college, compared to 1 in 3 for Millennials and 1 in 4 for Generation X. Not only are they making practical life choices, they also have realistic expectations regarding life’s ups and downs. Deep Focus’ Cassandra Report found that 71% expect to experience failure before achieving success, and 39% say they would rather save money than spend money.

They are Entrepreneurial

Generation Z has also been profoundly influenced by witnessing the success of tech startups and social media influencers (think YouTubers and Vine stars) – driven people who “made it” through hard work and talent. They want to start their own companies in the hopes of making it big too. Deep Focus’ Cassandra Report found that 62% of participants say they would like to start their own businesses. 89% spend their free time being productive and creative, often utilizing the internet and social media to learn valuable new skills. While Millennials are considered curators who enjoy sharing their discoveries, Generation Zers are creators who aim to share their work.

3 Key Considerations for Connecting with Generation Z

When 100% of a generation is connected for 1+ hours per day, a company’s internet presence is vitally important. Social media and solid content are key for connecting with Generation Z. According to CNN, teens spend approximately 9 hours per day using some form of media, so how do you connect with Generation Z?

1. Understand Where They Spend Time Online

According to insights by Sparks&Honey, Deep Focus and DigiDay, the following behaviors most accurately reflect the online habits of Generation Z:

  • 81% of online teens use social media
  • 85% of Gen Zers visit YouTube more than any other social site
  • They prefer anonymous and/or self-destructing social media (i.e.: Snap Chat, Whisper)
  • They enjoy creative social media such as Instagram
  • 29% think Facebook isn’t “cool” anymore

2. Communication

  • They prefer “snackable” content; pictures and few words are necessary to catch their attention
  • They prefer realistic endings in advertising (67%)
  • Prefer to see “real people” rather than celebrities (63%)

3. Content

  • They’re used to traditional advertising technique and messages and tend to tune them out
  • Instead, appeal to their desire to make a difference, entrepreneurial spirit, creativity and self-expression
  • Don’t talk down to them — as a generation of self-education and online research, they are informed and knowledgeable

Impact on Financial Services

Understanding Generation Z will only become more important as they continue to age and enter adulthood. Their generational persona is still developing, and the impact on financial behaviors is still being formed.  It’s time for marketers to consider how they will change their approach to best connect with this creative, practical, entrepreneurial generation known as Gen Z. By understanding the key characteristics of the generation and how they consume online content, you can better prepare your strategy for appealing to this important generation.  Here are some pointers for reaching them within the context of their financial lives:

  • Develop a messaging strategy, which speaks to Gen Z’s need for practicality – no fluff, straight forward solutions for saving money, savings for college, managing college debt, etc.
  • Reboot your content marketing strategy, which addresses the items previously mentioned but also speaks to their entrepreneurial aspirations (i.e.: small business start ups, etc.)

About the Authors:

Joe Sullivan is a consultant, a speaker, and an entrepreneur.  He is the founder and CEO of Market Insights, and has over twenty years of experience working with community banks and credit unions.  With a focus on both individual and organizational growth, Joe often challenges conventional thinking and works to create a sense of excited urgency with bankers because he believes that every business, including his own, must continually evolve to survive and prosper.

Michaela Cagle is a Research Analyst with Market Insights.  She focuses on the organization and analysis of market data, customer segmentation studies, and visual representation of data and strategy conclusions. She has a background  in retail banking with Wells Fargo. Michaela graduated from Boston College, where she studied Economics and History.

Sources:  Sparks&Honey, Deep Focus, The New York Times, DigiDay

What’re some of your thoughts on Generation Z? Leave your suggestions in the comment section below!