Why Millennials Are Shunning Traditional Financial Tools

Woman working out finances
AlamyOne expert says young adults are skeptical toward the financial industry -- mainly because of the Great Recession -- but they still want to manage their money.

By Kimberly Palmer

More than one-third of 18- to 29-year-olds have never had a credit card, according to a survey of 1,000 adults released last month by CreditCards.com. Thanks to the 2009 Card Act, which put strict limits on how credit cards are marketed and issued to young people, as well as the Great Recession, which seems to have made young adults more hesitant to take on debt, credit cards are no longer a wallet staple.

"For college students, it's a whole lot harder to get a credit card than it used to be," says Matt Schulz, senior industry analyst for CreditCards.com and U.S. News Money blogger. When he was in college 25 years ago, he recalls credit card offers all over campus. "There were tables offering Frisbees and T-shirts for signing up, and that just isn't happening anymore because of the Credit Card Act," he says. Now, he adds, college students stick with debit or prepaid cards instead.

%VIRTUAL-pullquote-Millennials are skeptical toward the financial industry. They lived through the Great Recession and are distrustful of Wall Street, but at the same time, they are engaged in their finances and want to manage their money.%Those shifting credit card habits are just the beginning of what makes millennials different when it comes to money. Financial experts who work with millennials also say they're looking for a different type of relationships with financial advisers, including more virtual communication via Skype calls or even social media. They also want to understand their investments and make sure they're keeping fees to a minimum, which differs from the more hands-off approach favored by their parents' generation.

"Millennials are skeptical toward the financial industry. They lived through the Great Recession and are distrustful of Wall Street, but at the same time, they are engaged in their finances and want to manage their money," says Silviya Simeonova, a senior analyst at Corporate Insight, a consulting and research firm.

According to a Corporate Insight survey earlier this year of 500 financial advisers and over 1,200 investors, millennials tend to conduct more research before picking a financial adviser and prefer to make investment decisions alongside financial professionals, as opposed to handing off decision-making power to an expert. "The role of a financial adviser is not so much to take all of the responsibility away from the young investor, but to collaboratively work with those investors to help them build their financial future," Simeonova says.

Millennials also prefer using text messaging, video conferencing, email, websites and social media to communicate with advisers about their money as opposed to sticking with in-person meetings only. By using social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter to share information, Simeonova says, millennials feel "more connected" to their advisers.

Ben Wacek, a financial planner and founding member of the XY Planning Network, an organization of fee-only advisers serving Generation X and Generation Y clients, says he has noticed that his younger clients also like using software or online tools to help them manage their money. "They're more versed in using that type of technology," he says. And as a millennial himself at age 30, he is, too.

%VIRTUAL-WSSCourseInline-899%Wacek also uses a public Facebook page for his firm, Wacek Financial Planning, which he uses to share interesting and useful articles and blog posts that he writes. Using social media in that way also helps him clarify his thoughts around financial planning topics, he says. "It gives me the opportunity to really present those ideas to clients or millennials at large," he says.

Millennial clients are also eager to use relatively simple financial products that they can easily understand, Wacek says. Instead of complicated products like annuities, they tend to gravitate toward simpler tools such as a Roth IRA or term life insurance versus whole life insurance. "They just want more transparency," he says.

Because of the Great Recession, millennials are also sometimes skittish about investing in the stock market, especially if they've seen their parents lose money. "We are more wary of putting money in the stock market, even though we hear it's the right thing to do," says Brooklyn-based millennial Pamela Capalad, ​a financial planner at Brunch & Budget, which she founded in 2013. That means advisers to young clients often have to spend time talking through the benefits and risks of investing in the market.

Here are five more strategies millennial financial advisers are using to appeal to their peers:

1. Don't make retirement the primary goal. For millennials, retirement is still some 30 to 40 years off, so advisers shouldn't lead with that, says Matt Becker, ​financial planner and founder of Mom and Dad Money, a financial planning practice. "Retirement is too far away to be a truly meaningful goal, so instead the focus is on creating a life that is fulfilling and enjoyable today while at the same time planning responsibly for the future," he says. Instead of retirement, he focuses his conversations with clients around financial independence. "It's a much more flexible goal that encourages people to think more proactively about what they want from life now," he says.

2. Stick with virtual meetups. "I meet all of my clients virtually, usually using Google Hangouts or Skype. It allows me to work with clients all over the country and to fit our meetings within their busy schedules. We'll meet early in the morning, late at night or even on the weekend if it fits their schedules," Becker says. Online scheduling tools that allow clients and advisers to skip back-and-forths over their calendars are another popular approach among younger advisers.

3. Ask what they want. Financial and professional goals tend to vary widely by person, which means advisers need to first ask about millennials' goals, as opposed to walking them through a standard checklist, says Eric Roberge, ​financial planner and founder of the firm Beyond Your Hammock. "We first focus on designing a life they love. The purpose is to visualize their goals to provide them with the motivation they need to take the appropriate actions. From there, we focus on cash-flow planning," he says.

4. Offer transparency with fees. Millennials are wary of feeling like they are being "sold a bill of goods," says Andrew Mohrmann, ​ financial adviser and founder of Modern Dollar Planning. "They want to understand how the professionals they work with are being compensated and understand any conflicts of interest." That's why fee-only models make sense, so advisers aren't being compensated for products they are selling, he says. "Millennials are educated consumers and can spot a sales pitch from a mile away."

5. Foster a relationship that lasts. Millennials want to see their adviser as an equal as opposed to an older, wiser person they entrust all their money to, and they want that relationship to feel authentic, says Brandon Marcott, financial planner and founder of Edify Financial Planning. "In order to really connect with the millennial generation, you are going to need to put yourself out there in a way you never had to do before ... Millennials will respect you for it," he says. "They want someone who is genuinely interested in them."

For millennials, Marcott adds, the relationship with a financial adviser isn't just about financial planning, but about life planning.

Kimberly Palmer is a senior editor for U.S. News Money. She is the author of the new book, "The Economy of You." You can follow her on Twitter @alphaconsumer, circle her on Google Plus or email her at kpalmer@usnews.com.