Gen X Grows Up

The MTV generation, having shaken off adult responsibilities for two decades, now finds itself facing the same financial issues as its parents

As you explore your pipeline of prospects, it may strike you that a career spent largely serving the same general population may be … well, a little limited in its scope. And for agents who’ve traditionally addressed the needs of the classic 70+ retiree clientele, it may be a good time to take a few moments and think about changing demographics in the United States. And the way a fast-changing population will affect your business in the years to come.

In this special section, we’ll address the unique needs, selling styles and buying preferences of three very different markets, groups you may not yet have considered as potential users of your products and advice. From the young and perhaps a little overly tech-connected Millennials to the substantial and vastly underprepared Generation X, we’ll get to see that each age group requires its own approach. This is especially important with Baby Boomers, who will quickly make up the bulk of the retired population.

Generation X: Getting Older, Finally Needing Your Help

We members of Generation X, the post-baby boom population born from the mid-1960s through the earliest years of the 1980s, are starting to settle into our “adult” years. Though our upbringing, particularly any sense of financial responsibility, may suggest otherwise.

The Gen X tag was first adopted back in the 1960s in a study of prevailing post-war attitudes (“the generation that sleeps together before it’s married, was not taught to believe in God as much, and doesn’t respect the parents,” it noted). It’s the first generation to include very many children of divorced parents and those whose mothers worked outside of the home, and is also noted for a less-involved political philosophy than its more active Baby Boomer parents, as well as a much more racially diverse population than the previous one.

“Generation X came of age in an era of scandals, rising divorce rates and a faltering economy,” notes Chicago advisor Paul Sippil, a Gen Xer himself. “As a result, we are self-sufficient and tend to value freedom and responsibility, and share an aversion to authority and structure. Given what we have seen and been through, we can adapt to change well.”

The title was later given broader popularity in Canadian author Douglas Coupland’s 1991 book,Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture. That book describes the experiences of young people whose collective culture included milestones ranging from the Moon landing, Vietnam and Watergate on their childhood TV screens to the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall. AIDS, the Iran-Contra affair and the beginning of the “war on drugs” were part of the background of a generation raised on (by current standards) old-fashioned video games, “Afterschool Special” TV and MTV—which itself recently celebrated its 30th anniversary.

Gen Xers, now parents themselves, more than a decade into their careers and struggling with mortgage payments and responsibilities (and, as a result, suddenly feeling suspiciously like their own parents), present a unique business opportunity for advisors. Our Boomer parents may have entirely neglected to do any financial planning whatsoever (and are now facing those facts), but there’s still plenty of time and plenty of need for solid financial advice for us.

“We know that Social Security is bankrupt and will not support us during retirement,” adds Sippil. “I believe our generation is America’s last hope for a free and self-reliant society.”

Sippil says he has made it his mission to expose what he calls the fraud and corruption in the 401(k) industry and pass that along to Gen X-aged clients, who tend to be skeptical of government bailouts and desperately need more competitive investment options to recoup their recent losses. “Ultimately, they realize they can’t rely on anyone else but themselves for retirement.”

Rick Rogers, a CFP with his own firm in Lancaster, Pa., says his approach with Gen Xers (who tend largely to be the kids of his primary senior clientele) involves a bit of a sometimes jarring reality check for that age group.

“I have a theory that people in their 20s and 30s feel that they’re immortal, and then all these other priorities come along and they never seem to concentrate on their financial plans. To a degree, you’ve got to scare these people into doing it,” Rogers admits. “I always try to stress that the younger you are when you start saving, and saving anything, really, it really makes a big difference.”

Rogers also says that Gen Xers will be most immediately impacted by the Baby Boomers’ huge vacuuming of Social Security resources, so they need to be given some alternatives.

“This generation knows that Social Security will be severely modified and that lower benefits will be the norm,” he says “It doesn’t mean that Gen Xers will have to wait until they’re 75 to retire, but if they don’t want to live that long with lower benefits, they need to plan now.”

By Andy Stonehouse

From the November 2011 issue of Agent’s Sales Journal


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