In her 20 years in the banking industry, Greater Community Bank’s Chief Operating Officer Donna McEntyre has never seen the pace of change like it is today.
“We now live in a world where everything is constantly changing,” McEntyre said Thursday, admitting that as a member of the Baby Boomer generation, she is just trying to keep up with the cultural shifts of the millennials and Generation Z, while also avoiding alienating customers her age or older.
“My son is 39 and one day he said to me about bankers, ‘Who in the world needs you?’ He was able to get a home loan online without ever talking to anyone at a bank.”
This conundrum was addressed head-on at a recent GCB board meeting where PowerPoint slides and a YouTube video outlined the viewpoints and habits of different generations of customers, GCB Administrative Assistant Amanda Clavino, said.
“There’s been so much emphasis on millennials in the past, but we’re also focusing more on Generation Z, or those born between 1995 and 2015,” said Clavino, who happens to fall somewhere in the middle of the two. “We’re finding out that their habits are very different.”
They learned that millennials, or “Generation Y,” between the ages of 25 and 39, are 95 million strong in the U.S. and typically have less brand loyalty than previous generations and have little patience for inefficient or poor service. They also seek digital tools to help manage their debt and see banks as “transactional,” instead of “relational.”
Millennials — shaped by the Great Recession and the explosion of social media — also are entering the work force with a tremendous amount of student loan debt and so may avoid large mortgages with high interest rates.
Generation Z, or “post-millennials,” on the other hand, represent about 25% of the population and grew up with the convenience of cellphones.
“This generation has seen the struggles of millennials and has adopted a more fiscally-conservative approach,” the presentation designed by a man named Christopher Wolf explained. “They want to avoid debt and appreciate accounts or services that aid in that endeavor.”
Debit cards are a high priority for those seeing the struggles of their Gen X parents, and they prefer mobile banking over stepping foot in a bank lobby, according to Wolf.
This wasn’t exactly new information for McEntyre, who is leading the design for a new bank in Cartersville. This GCB will differ quite a bit from the two Rome branches — inside and out.
“Gone are the days of marble floors and quiet lobbies,” McEntyre said. “The interior and exterior of the new bank in Cartersville will have more of a Starbucks feel, if you will, to appeal to younger customers. But there’s a fine line we have to walk because we don’t want to alienate our Baby Boomers who might ask, ‘Where’s my teller line?’”
McEntyre stressed, however, that small community banks in general have the advantage of more personalized service for all generations when compared to larger banks.
“We still have that hometown feel and are there every step of the way if someone is getting a business loan or buying a new car,” she said. “Our greatest challenge is keeping up with the technology demanded by younger customers, such as chat boxes on a website. These kinds of services are very expensive, so that is an uphill battle.”
McEntyre said IT costs for the bank have gone up by 30% in the last three years and cybersecurity measures are anticipated to eat up 10% of the budget in the next five years.
“We have to be vigilant with security,” she said. “We have full-time staff who do nothing but that.”
Stopping by the bank that afternoon was 27-year-old Jacob Shipp. Shipp said he’s been a loyal customer of GCB for the past three years because he knows one of the co-owners.
“It’s home to me,” he said. “I like to keep everything close by since I was born and raised in Rome. You can do everything online or on your cell now, but sometimes I need to come in. When I was first out of high school 10 years ago, you couldn’t do any of that and you had to have your parents help you set up an account. Times have changed, hopefully for the better.”
A few miles down the road at Coosa Valley Credit Union, 21-year-old Josee Rios stopped in to make a deposit.
Rios said he has been banking at CVCU at 2010 Redmond Circle for six months now, brought there on the advice of friends and family when he was trying to buy a 2008 Nissan Z car.
“I didn’t have any credit and nobody else would give me a car loan,” said the Rome resident who works at the Lowe’s Distribution Center in Adairsville. “I felt like they were very fair with me and willing to give me a chance.”
CVCU Marketing Vice President Stephanie Graves said Thursday her member-owned credit union is able to offer lower rates on loans and services because they don’t have to answer to shareholders and are not profit-driven like banks.
Graves said they’ve been studying the millennial generation, too, since they make up about 25% of their customer base.
“We’ve been focusing on how to reach this target market and have found some interesting research that says they’re very community-oriented and want to make the world a better place,” said Graves, who recently turned 40. “I don’t know if that’s because they grew up during the financial crisis, but we don’t think of them as a number. We get to know them and want to make life better for them.”
Graves said the credit union offers an app with fingerprint ID and gives members the ability to deposit a check instantly through their cell camera.
She said that although they have not added a chat box to their website, either, they frequently communicate with customers via private message through their Facebook page.
“A chat box would be a great idea and something the younger customers are used to,” she said.
Graves added that they pride themselves on taking each individual circumstance into account when a member like Rios needs a loan.
“We like to help them establish credit and we do a lot of education with our members, helping them understand what they need to do to qualify for a mortgage, for example,” she said, adding that they are working on making it easier to apply through their website within the next year to cater to the younger members.
McEntyre said she has no idea how much faster her world will be spinning in the years to come, but like a teenager on a daring carnival ride, she’s hanging on tight with excited anticipation.
“I’m fascinated to see where the banking industry ends up,” she said. “I know we have to prove our relevance. We take it as a great honor when somebody comes through that door.”