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Ready or Not, Millennials Are Changing How We Do Business Forever

06/26/2015 04:55 pm ET | Updated Jun 30, 2015

In the next 20 years, Millennials will receive over $20 trillion in inheritance, with over $7 trillion being passed along by 2020, according to Bloomberg Business. This is the largest wealth transfer our country has ever seen, and the impact will be seismic. Businesses that are traditionally run by and focused on Baby Boomers and Gen X'ers will be forced to adapt to the newest generation of customers in ways they'd never imagined. This is due to Millennials' expectations regarding technology, social responsibility, and instant gratification.

Boomers, those born between 1945-1964, grew up in an era of relative economic stability, and prospered despite numerous recessions and expansions. Typified by the "self-made" man, this past generation works a 40-hour workweek at a stable, long-term job; he owns a house in the suburbs, has a wife with two kids, and a solid retirement plan. This generation is often referred to as "Ben Franklin" investors - as they're slow and steady in the way they save and spend their money.

Gen X'ers stand as the "middle child" in this equation, and range from ages 35-49. They've been introduced to technology and are able to work hand in hand with it, but deem it much less of a necessity rather an addition to their lives. So how does this compare to the newer generation?

Millennials are a less structured, less long-term version of the Boomers and Gen X'ers, born between 1980 and 2000. According to data from the 2012 US Census Bureau, Millennials are the largest generation America has ever seen, exceeding over 92 million individuals.

The Millennials' distinctly different value set permeates all aspects of their life, and will affect businesses in the way they communicate with their customers. Over 85 percent of Millennials use a smartphone, according to a study conducted by Nielsen Holdings.

So, what does this mean for businesses? With these changes comes the need for businesses to rethink and reshape the way they appeal to this newer generation. Values in what they consume, how they consume it, and why they consume it are all beginning to be redefined. [1]

According to a study conducted by Bentley University, 66 percent of Millennials feel misunderstood by their elders- and since their elders are the ones driving a majority of the work force, this disconnect cannot continue. Businesses will need to recreate their image to encompass the values of this new age of consumers.

At the end of the day, if a business doesn't work side by side with technology, they will be less appealing to consumers and Millennials will be much more reluctant to, well, consume.

What can companies to do cater to this new generation of consumers?

Above all else, technology has influenced this generation the most. As Millennials grew up, technology was always there alongside them. Millennials and technology stand as a single entity, and the technological mentality shapes the millennial consumer generation.

"A lot of people who aren't Millennials talk about how Millennials view technology differently. I don't even think they view it as something external- it's simply part of their lives," said Jeff Watson, Partner at Monitor360, a company who specializes in Narrative Analytics.

As technology is such a crucial player in most Millennials' lives, they will expect it to work hand and hand with any device, anytime, and anyplace. For example, upon receiving pay for their work, this generation expects to deposit checks by snapping a photo on their phones, or better yet, to eradicate the perforated slips altogether and use direct deposit or the more informal system of money transferring services such as Venmo, Square Cash and Google Wallet. Between 2013 and 2014, almost 2 million Millennials joined credit unions over banks, and here's why. Take Jeff, a 27 year-old Millennial who is looking for advice on refinancing his home and buying a car. Why is Jeff attracted to the company, Navy Federal, much more than Bank of America? The answer is fairly simple. Credit Unions have a reputation of: being more customer friendly and more straight forward, requiring a lower credit score, and incorporating mobile banking into their system. Jeff can now use his smartphone to snap a picture of a check and deposit it straight into his account without having to fill out paper-work or spend time getting to the actual bank.

Businesses need to be able to tap into the tech-savvy expectations of this new generation and weave it into making every day actions accessible through technology.

"Technology is the how Millennials live their lives, view the world, and interact with each other," Watson said.

Considering what we now know about Millennials, it seems safe to say that a brand or company that leans into trends, or is even up to date with them, will be followed, appreciated, and trusted by the millennial generation.

Let's take the health insurance industry- a sector known for its unimaginative and archaic practices. Though many brands fail to meet Millennials' expectations, some, like Oscar Health Insurance, are thriving- and here's why.

They lead with the quote, "Better care starts with technology." Seeing that the younger generation flock to companies that are both easily accessible and work seamlessly with technology, Oscar Health Care did just that. They made their website easy to find, easy to use, and easy to trust. By instilling methods that make the "experience" of purchasing and having health insurance simpler and less intimidating, Oscar was able to target much of the millennial generation.

Oscar Health is a company that was not only innovative, but attentive to the needs and desires of Millennials. Health insurance is now available through an app that is easily downloadable on any smartphone. They even offer a free "fitness tracker" watch, and when you meet your daily fitness goal, you earn $1 towards your health insurance.

As business will be woven into technology, technology will be woven into business

Another bland, and boring example of a business at risk of retiring is the banking industry.

According to a study conducted by Scratch Viacom Media Networks, the banking industry is at the highest risk of disruption as it continues to be transformed by the millennial generation. A study conducted by Study Glass Onion showed that seventy one percent of Millennials reported they'd rather "go to the dentist" than be forced to to listen to what banks are saying.

What have banks done about this? Wells Fargo, for example, came up with easily downloadable applications on smartphones to make methods of payment and money transfers simpler. This feature is intuitive and captivating to many because of its tech-savviness and its ability to work seamlessly with the banking company.

Let's look at another business that will go through tremendous changes - the mortgage loan sector and all the associated industries. It's a space we know intimately from developing Lenda. This is an industry that is not far from becoming outdated. With 100-page documents to sign and persistent telemarketing, the millennial generation will look at this industry and see fossils. Unless they find a way to incorporate technology with applying for loans and refinancing, this industry will decay and die a slow, painful death.

Upon applying for financial aid or to jobs, or to universities' admissions offices, this demographic is burdened by finding old-school faxes to transmit paperwork; many their smartphones again, to snap photos of important paperwork and scan, fax and email from there. Upon buying or refinancing a home, Millennials expect the same streamlined process, but are sometimes running into "old-fashioned" processes of meeting bankers face-to-face, being emotionally jerked to and fro with phone conversations of the loan's process, and feeling as though they are unable to see the process and progress of their transaction.

In hindsight, companies like Lending Club work to make the process of refinancing and applying for personal loans pain free and simple. Forbes called it, "A unique and creative way to get a loan that boasts lower interest rates than most banks and credit card companies." Not only did it reach out to encompass peer-to-peer lending, but it also, as Ari Levens wrote in an article for CNN, "creates programmatic underwriting and connects borrowers with individual lenders."

Since many Millennials face student loan debt, companies like SoFi have emerged into the marketplace offering refinancing online. According to Forbes, student loan debt now stands at around $789 billion- exceeding credit card debt. According to a study done by Wells Fargo, the student loan application process has become so tiring that one out of three Millennials say they'd rather have worked straight out of high school than to have to deal with paying for college tuition. This being said, for businesses in the mortgage and loan industry to weave technology in with the process of applying and refinancing is crucial in targeting Millennial consumers.

This younger generation has instigated a shift from an era of social stability, to an era of social responsibility. The focus is shifting from "save for the future" to "save the future." Businesses will need to cope to fit the demands of their social-responsibility-preaching customers. Millennials not only want to consume, but they also want to feel connected with their purchases. Buying a product now means buying into a product. Buying organic foods, investing in greener technology, and purchasing fair trade clothing all funnel into helping the greater good in one way or another.

Much of the Millennial consumer society values taking a more "temporary" route in their purchases. A study conducted by Goldman Sachs showed 30 percent of Millennials did not intend to purchase a car in the near future, while only 15 percent declared it extremely important. We are experiencing a shift from an era of social stability to social responsibility- and transportation is a major player in that shift. Author and Economist Jeremy Rifkin stated, "25 years from now, car sharing will be the norm, and car ownership an anomaly."

Car companies that have made quick transportation convenient, personalized, and technologically dependent have thrived in attracting those of the Millennial era. Uber, for example, completely redefines the way people think about temporary transportation vehicles. It gives riders the freedom of choice, and creates something unique and posh out of something deemed ordinary and unextravagant. Uber has effectively meshed together technology with transportation in aims to make the entire process of hiring a cab or car easier.

Not only do business need to keep in mind Millennials' need for technology and their shift toward social responsibility, they also must appeal to the generation's demands for practicality.

Millennials value social responsibility, and by making public transportation appealing through the use of technology and giving the option of hiring eco-friendly cars, Uber, a taxi company, succeeded in taking Millennials' values and using them to reinvent the way they make their business more attractive.

Let's take Jeff, the Millennial mentioned earlier above, as an example in a different scenario. Jeff is coming home from work, and needs to catch a taxi cab- but he has a problem, he has no cash on him. What does he do? Uber gives their customers the option to pay through their credit cards (which can be done via smartphone), and gives clear pricing estimates based on their current location and the final destination. Jeff is able to select an eco-friendly car from the list of car choices, and is aware of the cost he will be paying at the end of his journey.

With entertaining a new generation comes the need for change

Whether businesses revamp their websites to make them appealing to Millennials, market themselves as socially responsible employers, or simply keep up with the latest social media trends, it's clear that the old business-to-consumer models and employment methods, much like the Baby Boomers, are beginning to retire.

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