Over the course of the last year, I have had the pleasure of doing a lot of cool and interesting things as an employee of a credit union. I like to believe it all started with attending the Michigan Credit Union League’s Annual Convention and Exposition (or MCUL AC&E as I like to call it) as a member of the inaugural Crash Michigan event. A group of seventeen credit union professionals under 30 (ish) who had the privilege of networking and listening to engaging speakers, several of which came to speak to our group, and getting a first-hand look at an event that would normally be reserved for executive managers and board members. This group represented the up-and-coming, the future, of Michigan’s credit unions.
This year I was approached and asked if I would like to lead this years’ Crash Michigan event with fellow 2011 Crasher, Bill Clancy. I accepted instantly. To say I thought it would be an exciting and amazing opportunity would be quite the understatement, yet I really had no idea what I was getting into. Along with leading the event, the MCUL had asked Bill and I to be guest speakers, and what better topic to present than one on Generation Y.
The very beginning of the presentation started with three questions, asking all participants to put their hands up and take them down if they don’t do the following:
1.) How many of you recognize the need for Gen Y members and employees? (All hands stayed up)
2.) How many of you currently have a Gen Y initiative in place? (Majority of hands went down)
3.) Of those, how many have a Gen Y employee or employees directly involved in the decision making and planning process of that initiative? (0 hands up)
About ten minutes into the presentation we stopped for conversation: “How is an aging membership and employee base affecting your credit union?… the industry as a whole?” This conversation took an unexpected sidetrack, but I’m glad it did.
What we got back was a discussion on the same tired, old stereotypes I’ve heard stamped onto GenY like we were machined straight out of the auto plants in Detroit. “They’re entitled”, “They’re lazy”, “Their parents spoiled them, and now we’re dealing with it”. These comments didn’t come from everyone in attendance, just a boisterous few… the crusty old curmudgeons if you will. And while the presentation went on without a hitch, it got me thinking. Earlier during the conference, in a seminar on performance based pay, a man asked the speaker, “How do you factor in pay for married wives, versus non-married wives?” During the keynote the same man asked former U.S. Sen. John Sununu (R-NH) how he could be friends with people like Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, and what we can do to keep the socialist Barak Obama from turning the U.S. into the next Soviet Union. This is the voice of the minority, I know, and in both instances the man was disregarded. But the point is that people like this sit on boards of credit unions. Their points may not be so extreme, but the stereotypes are there.
Obviously millennials aren’t the first to deal with generational stereotypes. Baby boomers, Gen X’ers, we all face generational stereotypes. What is it that led to the “spoiled, lazy and entitled” stereotype we all hear? Is it the same old “Back in my day…” mentality? No one in the room gasped when I told them Gen Y’ers care more about being involved in a cause than getting a paycheck. The fact of the matter is that as we prepare for 20% of CEOs to retire in the next five years, we’d be best served to start grooming young talent now. Make them an active part of strategic planning and decision making. Why not make a commitment to finding a board member under 35 in the next year, or at the very least, starting a junior advisory board?
Ultimately, Gen Y doesn’t want to be marketed to, they want to be communicated WITH. If you have a fifty year old relaying the message, I can assure you it is falling on deaf ears. Get young talent involved, and if you think you are the young talent, start speaking up. Get your voice heard and don’t be afraid to hear “No”. The sooner you build a tolerance to them, the better. Why not go out on a limb? That’s where the fruit is, right? Credit unions need to stop being the stepping stone for young careers and start fostering young professionals. We have a pool of talent with insight into what Gen Y wants and needs from a primary financial institution and we disregard that insight on the basis that it is inexperienced and [insert stereotype here]. I guess you’re not allowed to make a decision until you’re 55. (We all know that isn’t true, and a lucky few of us under 30 get to be involved in the decision making process.)
In today’s high speed society, being smaller than the mega-banks is an asset. It makes us nimble and able to react faster. We all know the “Business as usual” way of thinking doesn’t work. Embrace change, because the institutions that are slow to adapt to this “millennial tidal wave” will surely suffer a slow death.
The future of credit unions is something we have to fight for.