The media loves chronicling the differences between generations. Each day brings a new headline or scares story, casting some aspersion onto people older or younger than us.
Most of it is clickbait nonsense - but that doesn’t mean there aren’t tangible differences between generations. For collections teams, there are certain things to consider, like each generation’s unique preferences and upbringings.
So where do myths end and truth begin? Let’s take a look.
The Silent Generation
Born between 1926 and 1945, the Silent Generation came of age between the World War and the Baby Boom.
The members of this group are 70 or older and most have retired from the workforce. Formed by the War and the financial turmoil of their childhoods, the group is traditional, hardworking, and has a strong drive for financial security. On average, the silent generation has a lower debt burden than younger people.
But that doesn’t mean they have no debt whatsoever. Over half of Silent Generation households in the US have debt - paying off mortgages and credit cards, according to research by Pew.
As consumers, the Silents are defined by a lack of familiarity with tech - even in developed countries. In the UK, 4.2 million people aged 65+ have never used the Internet. A quarter (26%) of people aged 65 to 74 and around three-fifths (61%) of people aged 75+ do not regularly use the Internet.
Apps and online portals won’t meet this group’s needs, and you will need to adjust your digital-first approach to help.
It’s here where well-trained call centre staff still have a role. The Silent Generation’s preferences lean towards face-to-face communication or phone calls.
People born during the “Baby Boom” that followed World War II are predominantly in their 40s and 50s. They are well-established in their careers and hold positions of power and authority.
They have a lot of debt - and it’s rising. In 1998, 37% of people aged 56-61 had recurring debt and the average household owed $3,634 each month. Today, 42% of these households do – and the mean debt load is now $17,623.
The Boomers are much more digitally inclined than their parents: 60% of Baby Boomers have a smartphone. But this doesn’t come without quirks. The majority “are reticent to use mobile banking,” according to research.
Just over a quarter (26.5%) also prefer face-to-face interaction when it comes to financial transactions, although there’s an increasing appetite for using online channels to settle debts, according to Nielsen research.
The generation’s debt profile is increasingly hallmarked by two financial products, in particular: mortgages and credit cards. Almost 15% of equity release went to under-65s last year, doubling from around 7% in 2015.
Research indicates that credit cards remain a crucial financial product for Boomers, who hold more cards than other generations and charge a lot more money to them.
The challenge for collections teams in education. Boomers are open to technology - but they might require some coaching. A tool like live chat, guiding a user through the online process, is a helpful step.
The MTV generation was born between the early-to-mid 1960s and the early 1980s. Sometimes called the ‘neglected middle child’ of generations, Gen Xers are sandwiched between two much larger cohorts – the Baby Boomers ahead and the Millennials behind.
Gen X’ers should now be at their peak earning years, but the group has accumulated less wealth than their parents did at their age.
Debt is a fact of life for Gen X, with 58% holding substantial debt and nearly a third actively seeking ways to refinance those debts. Nearly half of Mexican Gen X’ers said a high level of debt has forced them to curb spending.
The generation has a high degree of Internet use: nearly 88.8% are monthly Internet users. They have ably made the leap from analogue to digital, and Gen X’s high anxiety over debt is a chance for lenders to be part of the solution.
Born between the early 80s and the late 90s, Millennials (or Generation Y to some) have seen declining financial fortunes.
In seven major economies, the growth in income of the average young couple and families in their 20s has lagged dramatically behind national averages over the past three decades.
In Spain, they're referred to as the mileurista (for their paltry €1,000 per month salaries). And in France, they’ve been labeled the “precarious generation”.
As financial strain has bitten, "nearly 40 percent of Millennials have spent money they didn't have and gone into debt to keep up with their peers," according to research: so-called FOMO spending.
For collections teams, Gen Y’s restricted cash flow requires flexibility. Millennials are tech-savvy and can make use of self-service channels. More than nine in ten Millennials (92%) own smartphones, for instance.
But financial constraints require collections teams to be flexible in their approach. Specialized collections and recovery systems can help you make the right offer at the right time, helping cash-strapped young people self-cure, and increasing the chances of successful recovery.
Born between 1995 and 2010, Gen Z is what’s next. So-called ‘digital natives’, Z has never known a world without the Internet.
This always-on culture contrasts with the economic turmoil many young people have experienced firsthand. Those born at the start of the mortgage crisis are about to enter their teenage years.
Like the Silent Generation, economic tumult has made Gen Z financially conservative, prioritizing saving money for the future ahead of spending time with family and friends.
Gen Z has lower brand loyalty than preceding generations, and nearly half would consider banking services from digital companies like Google, Amazon, Apple, or Facebook.
For these fickle consumers, negative collections' experience can quickly lead to a lost customer. But Gen Z also requires - and wants - guidance: 69% feel that figuring out how to start planning for their financial future is too confusing.
Collections can be the channel through which your bank can coach and help this generation meet its goals: not just to recoup your debts, but to retain customers that are just entering adulthood.
No matter what the generation, customers respond to a steady, calm approach when they default. There are differences in wealth, Internet use, attitudes - but ultimately everyone needs help when it comes to their debts.
So while it’s worth considering generation when you examine your collections strategy, far more important is crafting a flexible, customer-first debt channel.
When you treat customers as individuals, not just as a part of a generation, that’s when you get results.