Financial Literacy Month Should Be Calling For RIAs, Not A Marketing Gimmick

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April is Financial Literacy Month, timed around Tax Day when Americans are focused on money matters. With nearly three of every four adults acknowledging they would benefit from professional financial advice, firms are wise to draw attention to their services this month.

RIA’s are uniquely well positioned to address financial literacy. And yet, advisors have not been especially successful connecting with people in mid-career or younger. This group comprises the demographic core of future investors, and they need counsel now if they are ever to achieve their financial goals. They display much lower financial literacy than older individuals — and the nation already posts a failing grade average of 62.5% on the National Financial Literacy Test. But what grade do advisors receive for relating to this audience and earning their business?

While a broad, uncaptured audience is in need of financial education, RIA’s need to become literate on issues that matter to the next generation of investors. In other words, they need to speak the language that their intended audience speaks in order to elevate financial literacy.

First, understand what younger clients are trying to accomplish. Learn their financial point of view and respect it. Don’t assume, for instance, that their needs revolve around wanting to buy a home; Millennials will own real estate at a lower percentage rate than the previous generation. So, consider that your assumptions may not be in sync with their priorities. Help them align money with their current lifestyle and the desires they express. Once they can relate financial understanding to their life, they’ll gain the confidence to address long-term goals more assertively.

Recognize that Millennials have had a different experience than Baby Boomers or Gen X’ers. Millennials saw two stock market collapses on their way from high school to adulthood. They grew up in an environment where those with debt were watched as family and friends were squeezed hard during the housing crisis and in the corresponding credit crunch. Result: They are savers, not investors, by nature. They are skittish about markets and skeptical of the Wall Street establishment. That’s a barrier you’ll need to break down. As discussed in my prior post on LearnVest, understanding the saver mindset is key to engaging Millennials.

Go where they go to learn. Ever see a twenty-something online at a coffee shop? Chances are that they are absorbed in checking out something on their smartphone – updates on Instagram, checking out Twitter, messaging friends or reading articles that interest them. Make sure that your content is compelling and shareable, because your story will more likely reach them in their social media feeds than on traditional news sites. Sure, they’ll be impressed if your insight shows up in the New York Times or in the Huffington Post, but you have to make sure it is pushed to them.

Be tuned into wellness. Thirty nine percent of Millennials worry about their financial future “at least once a week,” according to a Fidelity study, and more than half (54%) cite debt as their biggest financial concern.[iii] That’s a cry for stability. They may be burdened by student loans or saddled with debt from early financial missteps, and now shy away from important decisions. Teach them to identify what factors have driven their financial decisions to date, and explain why those drivers are financially sound or not. Some firms have recognized this and have gone so far as to recast their brand around this. A great example is our client, United Capital, which adopted “Financial Life Management” in place of “Private Wealth Counseling” in its positioning. United Capital does an especially nice job in framing that fresh approach here.

Financial literacy is a two-way street. Before advisors can reach out to Millennials with tools and tactics for financial management, they first have to reach a credible understanding of the generational mindset. Only then can advisors provide the peace of mind younger clients want and the guidance they need.