PALM DESERT, Calif. – If credit unions missed the boat when it came to marketing to Generation Xers – as many industry observers have suggested – they now have a chance to launch an even bigger ship loaded with the opportunity to reach the future of the credit union movement. That’s the opinion of industry consultant Michael Neill of Michael Neill & Associates of Fayetteville, Ga., who says credit unions had better start now to capture the hearts and minds of those born after 1984 dubbed the “millennials,” “echo boomers” or “Generation Y.” To do that, however, credit union officials are going to have to rethink and revamp marketing strategies in order to attract some of the estimated 82 million people making up Generation Y who Neill says “think differently and act differently.” Among the differences will be their focus on the family, the fact that they have been taught to be more financially responsible and that they will be “radical entrepreneurs,” foregoing the traditional large workplace in favor of working for themselves or in small groups. Other generalizations which Neill listed included millennials will be raised in “very non-traditional families” (he said 82% define single-parent homes as normal); Caucasians will be in the minority and that a large portion -nearly one-third according to Labor Department statistics which he cited – will be functionally illiterate. They will be competitive, socially conscious, optimistic, spiritual and fun-loving, he added. “We lost Generation X by not paying attention to the fact that people are different,” Neill contended. “The good news is this: the millennials are out there. There’s 82 million of them and they’re vastly different from any generation that’s come before them. They’re vastly different from Generation X.” Neill warned that the number of millennials is nearly double that of the Gen X population, those people who were born between 1965 and 1984. The millenials are the children of the Baby Boomers (those born between 1945 and 1964) or Gen Xers. “What we don’t want to do is lose this group like we did Generation X because I believe the consequences will be much more significant because there’s a lot more of them,” Neill said. The goal for credit unions, he said at the California Credit Union League’s Palm Tree Educational Conference here, should be to attract Generation Y members and build their loyalty to the financial institution. It is, he insisted, an investment in the future. “Do not mess up this opportunity,” he warned. “Do not look at this as a quid pro quo. As a board member, do not sit down in a room and say, `I don’t know any of those kids.’ Don’t sit in that meeting and say, `How much money are they going to make for us today.’ “This is an investment . . . It might be a pretty good investment today but it will definitely be a good investment in the future because these kids are different in the way they think and act and behave. If we can get hold of them now, what we’re going to be able to do is develop a little bit more loyalty than we had in the last 10 or 15 years.” To reach this up-and-coming group, Neill suggested that credit unions appeal to their passions: music, social interaction, the environment, family. Credit unions will also need to use the Internet and other technologies to reach this group, which Neill described as “techno-experts.” “This group has brand loyalty,” he added. “I believe they’re going to maintain it. You’re trying to become the brand for them.” By serving this young group now in various small ways, credit unions “will be the first place they’ll think of when it comes time to borrow money for college, borrow money for a care and utilize a financial institution in a more significant way,” Neill predicted. “Let’s make some investments in the future,” he said. “Let’s not miss this opportunity.” A similar message was sounded earlier in the three-day conference by John J. Pierce, senior vice president of investments for Paine Webber. Speaking on the topic of “Boomers and Xers – How to Serve the Generations,” Pierce said credit unions were well positioned to serve the needs of the next generation of members. “Credit unions are in a unique position,” Pierce said. “You already have the full service. You already are the low-cost choice among financial institutions. It’s simply rounding out your services and accessibility to make it convenient . . . You’ve got to deliver on the services . . . and now it’s on convenience. “You want to build generational relationships,” he said. “Relationships are your stock in trade. You know your members. Your members know you. Why can’t we capture our member’s kids? I think that’s what it’s really all about.” -

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