Financial Education In High Schools: A Waste Of Time

The CU WaterCooler recently featured a DailyFinance article titled It’s Time to Teach Financial Literacy in High School which included the following:

“Seventy [percent] of incoming college freshman told us that they have never been taught basic financial literacy skills. Yet, they are signing up for student loans, opening credit cards and making decisions that will have a serious impact on the rest of their lives.

Why don’t we do more to help our children prepare for a financial world that can be extremely expensive when not understood properly? As a society, we spend a lot of time, money and effort helping prepare our young people for college.

Yet, for some reason, we do not spend a whole lot of time educating potential college students on the less exciting topic of financial literacy, which is the elephant in the corner. More than 90% [of students in a Brooklyn College financial education course] wish that they had more financial training earlier in life, preferably in high school.”

My take: Teaching financial literacy in high school is a waste of time and money.


Imagine that you would like to learn how to play tennis, and that I, an expert tennis player and teacher, agree to give you lessons.

I tell you to meet me at the local Starbucks, and being the really good guy that I am, I buy you a coffee (the cost of which I will more than recoup when you get my bill for the tennis lessons), and we sit down in a couple of adjoining comfy chairs.

I then spend the next hour telling you about the various shots that are used in the game of tennis, and I tell you what you have to do to hit them properly. I might even open up my Macbook, log on to that free SBUX wi-fi, and show you some videos of tennis greats like Borg and McEnroe to show you how it’s done. And let’s say we repeat this SBUX meeting once a week for the next 12 weeks.

At the end of the 12 weeks, do you really think you will have learned to play tennis? Hell no.


And therein lies why teaching financial literacy in high school is a waste of time. Financial literacy requires “on-the-job” training. You can’t learn it in a classroom. Fictional, theoretical situations and decisions simply can not replace–nor simulate–the decisions that need to be made in real-life.

It’s pretty easy to sit in a classroom and say you’re going to give up SBUX 2 days a week in order to save $XXX over the course of a year. Or say you’re going to pay off that credit card bill in order to avoid interest payments and build your credit score. Good luck making those decisions in real-life.


Another reason why high school education is a waste: Because high school students couldn’t care less about financial education.

If a school offered financial education, do you know why a guy would sign up for it? If some girl he’s into signs up for it.

Do you know why girls would sign up for it? I have no idea. I was hoping you could tell me. I have a wife and three daughters and I’ll be damned if I can figure out why they do what they do.

Sure, you can survey the small handful of college students who signed up for a financial education class, and find that they said they would have liked to have received that education in high school. But how representative are they? And would they really have signed up for the class in high school?


You simply can not take someone who isn’t out there earning money, paying bills, and trying to start and raise a family, and expect to teach them what they need to learn about financial management six to eight years before they they need that education.

In 2013, I surveyed US consumers about how their financial lives how changed from pre-recession to recession to post-recession. I asked about their level of financial literacy and how it changed over the years. By generation–splitting Gen Yers into younger (21-26) and older (27-34) subsegments–here are the percentages of consumers that considered themselves to be financially literate in 2013 and in 2010:

          Younger Gen Y     Older Gen Y     Gen X     Boomer     Senior
2010          24%               30%          42%        58%        68%
2013          47%               51%          57%        57%        72%

The Younger Gen Yers did a lot of financial growing up between 2010 and 2013 when they started off in the 18-23 year old range.

Clearly, it would be better if these percentages were higher–across the generations. But I doubt that financial education in the high schools would have had much impact on them. It was being out in the real that provided the real financial education.

The data suggests, however, that there is a group of consumers–in every generation–for whom real-life experience isn’t enough to teach them what they need to know about managing their financial lives. What distinguishes these consumers from others?


My first guess was that household income might be a good predictor of improved financial literacy between 2010 and 2013. But that didn’t pan out.

Improved financial literacy between 2010 and 2013
Young Gen Y (21-26) Less than $30,000 59%
$30,000 to $44,999 71%
$45,000 to $69,999 43%
$70,000 to $99,999 50%
$100,000+ 53%
Old Gen Y (27-35) Less than $30,000 45%
$30,000 to $44,999 48%
$45,000 to $69,999 43%
$70,000 to $99,999 47%
$100,000+ 32%

Among Young Gen Yers, a larger percentage of lower income consumers said their financial literacy improved between 2010 and 2013. Among Older Gen Yers, the percentage that said their level of literacy improved was fairly consistent across income brackets. Surprisingly (to me, at least), I didn’t find significant differences by level of education, either.


I thought maybe the use of online personal financial management tools (e.g., Mint) would predict the difference between those whose literacy levels improved and those who didn’t. Sadly, it didn’t. Neither did the use of financial self-help books or watching/listening to financial shows like Suze Orman.

The one factor that I did find to help explain the difference? Turning to a bank or credit union for help in managing their financial lives. Across each of the generations–all five of them–a significantly larger percentage of consumers who got help from their bank or credit union increased their level of financial literacy than consumers who didn’t.


Improving financial literacy (across all consumer segments, not just the younger ones) is certainly on the radar of some FIs. An early peek into the 2015 Financial Brand Marketing survey shows that about one in four FIs plans to make financial education one of the areas that they will heavily market in 2015 (I don’t have a bank/credit union split on that just yet).

But if the focus of these financial education efforts is going to be heading out to high schools to get a bunch of 16 year-olds up to speed on how to manage their financial lives when they hit their mid-2os, I’m betting those efforts are going to be nothing but a big waste of time. And money.


The health care system has made one notable change over the past 20-30 years that the financial services industry needs to emulate: A focus on outcomes.

The focus, in financial services, should be on financial health, not literacy or education. Being financially literate is like learning how to play tennis while sitting in Starbucks. You can pass a test, but it doesn’t mean you’re any good at it. And education may very well be what’s required to become literate, and achieve financial health–but without a measure of health, there’s no way to tell if the education was effective. 


The CFSI gets this. In an article titled The Future Is Financial Health, CFSI CEO Jennifer Tescher wr0te:

“We need to redefine financial services from the pursuit of wealth to the pursuit of health.”

I disagree a bit with this. “Financial services” is a broad category, and there are segments of the industry (brokerages, asset management, wealth management) where the pursuit of wealth is the correct focus.

But for retail banks–who need to regain trust, develop products that appeal to financially-educated young consumers, and find new, more profitable business models–Jennifer’s comment may very well be spot-on.


CFSI is spot on about something else, as well:

“Financial health is not a purely subjective matter. We have begun to identify key indicator variables, including both subjective and objective measurements. Over time, we will learn how factors like debt levels, savings, access to planning tools, and self-assessments of financial health fit together and how financial services innovation can bolster financial health.”

What’s needed is a FinScore. What CFSI is planning to do may very well become that score.


Bottom line: I realize that financial education is one of those “motherhood and apple pie” subjects. How dare anyone bad mouth financial education! But spending time and money on financial education for high school students is a waste of that time and money. That time and money is better spent elsewhere–specifically, on people already out of school.

p.s. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t the title of the Daily Finance article grammatically incorrect? You don’t “teach” literacy, do you? Literacy is a result, or outcome of teaching, not what is being taught.


The Future Is Bright For NeoBanks

NetBanker recently published a post titled Neo-Banking is Just Getting Started, in which Jim Bruene wrote:

“I believe we will see dozens, if not hundreds, of neo-banks launch in the next few years.”

Jim lists four reasons supporting his opinion: 1) Simple’s $100-million exit to BBVA; 2) Marketplace lending provides a path to profitability; 3) Third-party financial watchdogs become trusted services; 4) It’s much, much harder to launch a real bank.

My take: I agree with Jim 99.999% on this. The difference is that I lean more to the “dozens” estimate than the “hundreds” estimate. But that’s a nit. Jim’s arguments for the proliferation of NeoBanks are spot on–but I do see additional reasons supporting the NeoBank trend.


Before we get to those additional reasons, let’s address some of the skepticism regarding NeoBanks future. NetBanker cites a blog post from an industry analyst firm that isn’t the one I work for, so you’ll have to find it for yourself. The author of that post wrote:

“In recent months, the neo-bank model has hit a few stumbling blocks that call into question the promise of the digital-only model, and gives credence to the skeptics. GoBank recently announced that it was going to stop allowing account opening via the mobile device. Users will now have to purchase an account opening “kit” from a store, adding significant friction to the process. Simple has experienced a number of issues related to payment scheduling, the “safe-to-spend feature,” and service outages or delays. Moven received $8 million to begin moving their app overseas in an effort to garner higher adoption.”

The author goes on to say that his firm envisions “a couple of different paths over the next few years” for NeoBanks (Snarketing note: A “couple” would imply two, and as there are three paths listed, this just supports my contention that my competitors aren’t as good at counting as I am): 1) NeoBanks are acquired and rolled into larger digital channels offerings; 2) Traditional institutions begin offering their own NeoBank, digital-only services:and 3) NeoBanks never become viable stand-alone business models, but they influence the way banks think about digital channels.

A “couple” of reactions: 1) It seems to me (and perhaps to NetBanker) that there is a fourth path: NeoBanks become viable, stand-alone businesses; and 2) Regarding NeoBanks getting acquired by larger firms, I said that three years ago in The Future of Movenbank (nice to see my competitors catch up to where I was three years ago).


So, what are my additional reasons for supporting NetBanker’s optimism on the future of NeoBanks? Supply and demand.

On the supply side, a new business model is needed in banking–one based on improving consumers’ financial performance (not from an assets/investments perspective, but from a liabilities/spending perspective).

Today’s retail banking business model is based on lending and money movement. In a low-rate environment with low borrowing demand, it’s tough to grow the business. So banks (and credit unions) have looked to supplement revenue by focusing on money movement (i.e., payments). But there is little value-added to the consumer to simply move money from point A to point B.

That’s what NeoBanks are trying to address with “safe-to-spend” and instant mobile receipts. Ne0Banks aren’t simply about “mobile,” “digital,” or “branchless”–they’re about added value. I think that’s what Jim i getting at when he talk about “third-party watchdogs become trusted services.” Can NeoBanks make money at it? Surely that’s the $64k question, but I’m betting the answer is yes.


There are some demand side factors at play here, as well. While no shortage of industry observers point to Gen Yers’ proclivity to use technology, and mobile technology at that, perhaps the most important differences about this generation has nothing to do with technology.

Instead, one defining characteristic may be their willingness to entertain alternatives to the traditional checking account. For the first time in generations, this young generation does not automatically open a (or another) checking account upon college graduation.

While some don’t want that alternative product from a traditional bank, I don’t think that number is particularly large. Which means that there are opportunities for traditional banks to offer alternative products (that they develop and launch themselves), or to acquire NeoBanks who accelerate the traditional banks’ launch of these alternative products.

There is another distinguishing factor: Gen Yers are more involved in the management of their financial lives at this stage in their lives than previous generations were at that age. This is a critical factor. In essence, younger consumers care more about having and using money management tools and capabilities than older consumers.


Bottom line: Like NetBanker, I’m bullish on the future of NeoBanks. I hear the skeptics arguments, but the “evidence” against NeoBanks are examples of execution hurdles and hiccups, not dis-proofs of concept. The skeptics’ examples of NeoBanks’ “stumbling blocks” are examples of individual firms’ problems, not of the category’s problems.

Will all NeoBanks survive and/or thrive? No. Of course not. Remember that competing operating system to MS-DOS back in the late 70s? (The under-50s reading this don’t “remember” because they never knew, and us over-50s don’t remember because, well, we don’t remember anything, anymore). The company didn’t survive, but PC computing sure as hell survived. Did the company that first came out with a PC-based spreadsheet make it? No, but that was not a sign that spreadsheets weren’t viable.

I have a book coming out (any day now, I hope) called Smarter Bank. The subtitle of the book (if it survives the publisher’s scrutiny) is “Why money management is more important than money movement to the banks and credit unions.” What NeoBanks represent are advancements in money “management” not money movement. NeoBanks are the bridge between the old world of banking and the future of banking.



A Call For A Moratorium On Millennial Research

Right now, in an ad agency conference room somewhere in the United States, there is someone–a fairly senior person–saying the following:

“Let’s commission a survey of Millennials. We’ll ask questions that really get to the heart and core of what they’re about. The press will pick up on our press releases, and we’ll demonstrate to brands that we really get Millennials.”

The only problem is that it’s not just happening in “a” conference room–it’s happening in every freaking ad agency conference room across the United States.


The most recent Millennial nonsense (at least that I’ve seen) comes from Mindshare. Apparently, this particular study was so important, it warranted two separate articles in MediaPost. Here are some of the important data points coming out of the study (well, at least as far the authors of the two articles are concerned):

  • 74% of Millennials indicate they “understand people’s flaws and accept them.”
  • 79% of Millennials “want their lives to have as much meaning as possible.” Apparently, “the desire for fun, meaning and happiness distinguishes Millennials from Gen X.”
  • 76% of Millennials believe “drive is just as importance as intelligence.”
  • 71% of Millennials agree with the statement “I’m a realist.” The MediaPost article says that “experiencing the Great Recession heightened Millennial’s value of pragmatism.”
  • 72% of Millennials say that “life is too short to be uptight.”


Precious. The generation that overwhelmingly voted for “Hope” thinks that they’re realists.

Tell me: What did the 21% of Millennials who didn’t say they want their lives to have as much meaning as possible say they want in their lives?

How despicable and cranky are Gen Xers that they (apparently) don’t want fun, meaning, and happiness in their lives?

And I guess that most Boomers are like me in believing that life is plenty long to be uptight.


There ought to be a law in market research: Thou shalt publish no research about a generation if the study doesn’t include respondents of other generations for comparative purposes.

Here are my contentions:

1. Many of Gen Y’s self-professed attributes are not statistically different from those of other generations.

2. If generational research had been half as prevalent 40 years ago as it is today, studies would have found that Boomers’ self-professed attributes were not terribly different than Gen Yers, when Boomers were Gen Yers’ age.

3. Self-professed attributes are useless, in the first place.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot:

4. Gen Xers really are different. They really are cranky and fun-hating. (Just kidding).


Here is another contention: We don’t need any more “research” on Millennials. What we need is a moratorium on all this useless Gen Y research.

But, as a realist and pragmatist, I recognize that my call for a moratorium is likely to g0 unheeded, because I know that ad agencies are looking for press attention and a competitive edge. I understand their flaws–and I accept them. 


If, however, agencies are going to conduct these studies, what they could do–to add at least a little value to the general level of marketing knowledge–is ask Gen Yers how their self-professed attributes and attitudes have changed.

This is what marketers need to understand better–not what Gen Yers think about themselves, but how those attitudes have changed, and are changing.

So I’m scared and I’m thinking that Millennials ain’t that young anymore. The oldest are in their mid-30s already. In 5 years, some of them will hit 40. Forty is a lot different than 20, no? Are the self-professed attitudes and attributes changing, and are Gen Yers becoming more like older generations, just as older generations were more like Gen Yers when those generations were younger?

That’s what we really need to know. Not the nonsense coming out of all these Millennial studies.

The Venmo Line

Every once in a while, I come across a concept, a thought, sometimes just a phrase, that captures the essence of the universe. One of those moments occurred this week.

The folks over at published an article which recounted an internal online conversation various staff members had one morning regarding online P2P payments (in particular, Venmo). The article reporting the exchange of messages distinguishes between the over-30 year olds at Quartz, and those under the age of 30.

You can probably guess what the comments from the over-30 group were:

“Seriously, do enough people pay enough other people with enough frequency to support all these person-to-person payment apps? haven’t people ever heard of splitting a bill?”

“Why on earth would anyone care what their friends are paying each other?”

So why would those “crazy kids” use this technology?

“Venmo is great also because it is sort of a social network too, like you have to put in a sort of “memo” field and so you see a news feed of what your friends paid each other for”

“Because people write funny things….with emoji usually”

Not that I have any clue (as a way-over-30 year old) what “emoji” is.

The folks at Quartz called this generational split the Venmo Line.


The Venmo Line. Nothing I’ve heard before quite captures the essence of how Gen Y is different from older generations than that phrase.

I’m tired of hearing Gen Yers describe themselves as “social.” That’s not how they’re different. Once upon a time, I was young, free, and single (or more accurately, childless)–and, as a result, social.

Believe it or not, there once was a time when I went out at 10:30 pm–and not, like now, to bed.

That’s right, believe it or not you smarmy little Gen Yers, but previous generations were just as social as you think you are. What previous genrerations had, that Gen Yers apparently don’t, however, are boundaries.

Older generations didn’t (and don’t) share personal financial information. We don’t share a lot of personal information that Gen Yers seemingly have no problem sharing with everyone else. That doesn’t make the social, or more social. It simply makes them…..different.

That’s the Venmo line: What you have no qualms about sharing and what you do have qualms about.


There is another important aspect to The Venmo Line. It has to do with why they use Venmo in the first place.

One of the “elders” at Quartz (who’s probably no older than 35) commented: “do enough people pay enough other people with enough frequency to support all these person-to-person payment apps?”

The answer is YES! I’ve sized P2P payments (all of them, not just online) in the US, and the answer is that P2P payments total nearly $1 trillion (which is only about a quarter of retail sales or monthly bill pay).

This volume isn’t lost on banks, who for years have been touting their online P2P payment capabilities (through capabilities like CashEdge) without much success.

But along comes Venmo, and adoption among the under-30 crowd is widespread (Sadly, I have no data to prove that. My contention comes from input from my older daughter who says all her friends use Venmo, and from Drew Sievers, who says that all the young people who live in that outlier of a bubble in the universe called Silicon Valley use it).

The question is, why have they adopted Venmo when banks have had this capability for a long time?

The answer is The TechCrunch Effect. I wrote about this last year when Coin was introduced. TechCrunch wrote about this new technology, legitimized it, made it “cool” and drove adoption.

And that’s the clue to the other part of the Venmo Line: Those “below” the line (the under 30 crowd) will adopt a particular vendor’s technology if it’s perceived as cool, even if there are a million other providers of that technology.

Those of us “above” the line may use that technology–and others like Twitter and Facebook, and whatever–but we’re a lot less likely to do so because it’s “cool.”


That’s the Venmo Line–the essence of the generational split–personal boundaries and the coolness factor.

It isn’t being social or simply using a technology that makes us old geezers fit the behavioral profiles of Gen Yers. It’s the content of what’s being shared, and the motivation for the using the technology.

Banks/Credit Unions: The Anti-Firefly?

Here are some things I’ve learned from recent consumer research I’ve conducted (nothing earth-shattering, but at least there’s data to back up the assertions):

  • Gen Yers have an impulse purchase problem. Six in 10 “young Gen Yers” (21-26 yo), and have of”old Gen Yers” (27-34 yo) say they don’t save more money than they do because they make too many impulse purchases. Just a quarter of Boomers say impulse purchases are a problem. It’s not inherent to members of the generation–it’s something that all young people go through. Boomers had that problem when we in our 20s. We grew out of it, fingers crossed, Gen Yers will, too.
  • Gen Yers want help managing their financial lives. My own data shows that Gen Yers are more engaged in the management of their financial lives, and more likely than older consumers to turn to their banks and credit unions for guidance and assistance in managing their financial lives. To further hammer you over the head with this point, I’ll also cite Novantas’ research (included in a Financial Brand article from Rob Rubin) which showed that “nearly half of all Gen Y consumers looking to switch banks want their next institution to offer online PFM tools.”
  • Consumers think that banks and credit unions can do a better job of providing mobile shopping capabilities than providers like Apple and Google. When asked who would do a good job of providing mobile shopping capabilities, consumers (not too surprisingly) thought their bank or credit union would do a better job on data security and privacy than Amazon, Apple, or Google. They thought Amazon would do the best job of providing relevant offers and providing the best advice, but still thought FIs would do a better job than Apple or Google.


So what? Well, as Venture Beat writes:

“[T]he Amazon Fire Phone is a fascinating machine for connecting you with stuff to buy. It’s probably also the biggest single invasion of your privacy for commercial purposes ever. Firefly is a seriously impressive combination of hardware, software, and massive cloud chops that delivers an Apple-like simplicity to identify objects like books, movies, games, and more, just by pointing your Fire Phone’s camera at them and tapping the Firefly button. By storing all the photos you’ll ever take with Firefly, along with GPS location data, ambient audio, and more metadata than you can shake a stick at in Amazon Web Services, Amazon will get unprecedented insight into who you are, what you own, where you go, what you do, who’s important in your life, what you like, and, probably, what you might be most likely to buy.”

In other words, if you have an impulse purchase problem, the Amazon Fire Phone is not the phone for you.

In more other words, if you need help managing your financial life, don’t think that Amazon–through it’s amazing ability to gather, store, analyze, and deploy data–is going to help you anytime soon.


The Fire Phone presents a threat and two opportunities to banks.

The first opportunity is the easiest: Sit back and do nothing. The Fire Phone will get people to spend more money, and if they use a bank’s debit or credit card for those purchases, cha-ching! More interchange! Hell, the extra spending behavior might drive people to spend more than they have, and run balances on their credit card and have to pay out more in interest and late fees. Cha-ching again!

But after some time, the CFPB will notice this and take steps to reduce the amount of money flowing to the banks. The fact that consumers’ bad spending behavior is not the banks’ fault is of no concern to the CFPB.

So maybe this first opportunity isn’t that great of an opportunity after all.


The threat here isn’t immediate, but is certainly more dire.

If the Fire Phone achieves any meaningful level of market penetration, it might be very easy for Amazon to go their smartphone customers and say “Hey, do you want free checking? No, really–we really mean free checking!”–and then get many of those customers to deposit their paychecks directly into the First National Bank of Amazon. Amazon doesn’t need to generate monthly fees on those accounts–they’ll be making a ton off the purchases. And access to the paycheck information becomes just one feather in Amazon’s data cap.

So wait, you say, why is Amazon a threat, but not Google or Apple?

Because Apple’s Achilles heel is its inability to manage and use data (it’s a technology company, not a Big Data company).

And Google, although much better in its use of data, has advertising in its DNA. It’s not an eCommerce company. Actually, forget the “e” — it’s not a commerce company, with strong capabilities in processing large amounts of transactions. Ever call Google for customer support? Right.

Amazon is a commerce company. Amazon is a platform. Amazon could challenge the banks. Apple? Google? No. A telco? Ha! Never. Those telcos are the most incompetent companies on the planet.


This brings us to the second opportunity I mentioned that I think banks and credit unions have: To become the Anti-Firefly. To help consumers not spend more money. To provide incentives (gamification?) to save more. To provide alerts before purchases. To provide advice on which payment methods to use when making a purchase.

The problem here–and believe me, I understand this very well–is the business model problem. Today, banks make money when people spend more. Credit unions do, too, by the way. An overwhelming majority of credit union executives I recently surveyed said that credit and debit card interchange is a very important part of their revenue growth plans for 2014.


But I think there’s a path to get there: Creating a new product structure by which a customer pays for the PFM tools that help them manage their finances–and where those fees are not in addition to other monthly or account fees.

It would also mean that existing customers would not have access to PFM tools. This might seem like heresy, but let’s look reality in the face for a change, shall we?

Nobody uses the PFM tools integrated into the online banking platform.

OK, that was a bit of an overstatement. But the reality is that it’s nowhere near a majority of even the online banking customer population. So would it really be that much of a hardship to take something that they don’t use away from them?

Of course, these PFM capabilities had better work on the mobile device, and do analysis in real-time. Some are already there, or close.


When it comes to threats to the traditional banking system, I don’t think any other firm poses the level of threat that Amazon does. Good marketers understand, think about, and do something about positioning their firm in the marketplace.

Banks and credit unions need to position themselves against Amazon as a player in the payments space, and as a potential player in the banking arena. Positioning themselves as the “Anti-Firefly”–the protector of consumer privacy security, the provider of objective advice and guidance that’s in the consumer’s best interest (not the retailers’ and merchants’)–could be the winning ticket.

Millennial Marketing Mumbo Jumbo

If you ever wanted to be a published blogger on a national business magazine’s site, now’s your chance.

Apparently, if you can string a few words together and sprinkle in some business buzzwords here and there, you can get your post published on the Forbes site. Don’t worry, coherency isn’t even a prerequisite for getting your piece accepted.


That’s my takeaway after reading a post published there recently titled Millennial Marketing Lessons Every Financial Services Giant Will Need.

After regurgitating the standard woes of Gen Yers (they make less money, they have more debt, blah blah blah), the article addresses the topic raised by the article’s title, namely, what financial services firms should do to attract this segment (although with their low wages and high student debt, I’m not quite sure why any FI would want this group as customers):

“1) Embrace disruptive schemas that align to millennial values
2) Create tools that simplify millennials’ life and financial planning needs
3) Act in a more authentic and transparent way
4) Curate content that helps millennials make more informed decisions
5) Engage millennials as your brand partner by allowing them to co-create new products, customer delivery channels and more.”


If you’re not rolling on the floor laughing you either: 1) Haven’t had your morning coffee yet, or 2) You (like the authors of the article) work in advertising.

Here are just a few of the problems I have with the article:

1) Got proof? The five points listed above were copied and pasted here, as is from the article. Amazingly, the five points were the end of the article. That’s right: No explanation or elaboration of what these five points mean. And, just as bad, no proof or evidence offered as to why these five points would work in attracting Millennials.

2) Disruptive schema? What the hell is a disruptive schema? You mean, like Simple or Moven (who, by the way, I’ve argued are anything but disruptive)? If that’s true, what does it mean to “embrace” a disruptive schema? Got a little news for you disrupt-o-maniacs: Half of Gen Yers call a large, national bank their primary bank. That’s a higher percentage than Gen Xers, Boomers, or Seniors do. Financial services giants already attract Millennials.

3) Act authentic? “Act” was an interesting choice of words. When Brad Pitt or George Clooney “act,”, they pretend to be someone or something they’re not. Which would be not authentic. So the act of acting authentic wouldn’t be very authentic, would it? Now I’m talking mumbo jumbo. Let’s get to the point: If you’re going to advise someone to be authentic, you have to tell them how to be authentic. You have to point out what isn’t authentic about what they currently do. Preachers who preach authenticity should be slapped upside the head.

4) Curate content? Exactly what kind of “informed decisions” should these financial services giants be helping Millennials make, and exactly which content helps them do that?

5) Co-create new products? Seriously? You really think Millennials want to help design insurance policies? Here’s an idea for you credit card issuers: Ask Millennials to write the “terms and conditions” statement for your next card. No need to run it by the lawyers since the Millennials helped write them.


Look, I’ll be the third to admit that sometimes the advice I provide clients is wrong (my boss and my wife are ahead of me on the list — wait, come to think of it, there’s like a million people ahead of me on the list).

But this Forbes article contains some of the most useless bunch of millennial marketing mumbo jumbo that I’ve seen in a long time.



Facebook’s Real Crisis

The author of a New York Times article titled Facebook’s Existential Crisis reports:

“Checking Facebook throughout the day is  a 10-year-old habit I can’t seem to shake, even though it has less and less relevance in my daily life. Facebook no longer feels like a place to share updates with friends, catalog your life events, or play games with them. For me and most of my friends, it is no longer the place people share photos or chat with their friends, or comment on their location. If it is none of those things, then what, exactly, is Facebook? And what will its purpose be in the future? Mark Zuckerberg is well aware of Facebook’s swirling existential crisis and has a plan to deal with it.”

My take: Ah, the short-sightedness of youth. Too bad the New York Times is no place for that.


Apologies in advance for the snarkiness (but check the title of the blog, will ya?), but I got some news for some short-sighted Gen Yers: People change.

That’s right, junior. The fun-loving, stay-out-all-night-on-a-Tuesday-night, collaborative, save-the-world, I-will-avoid-the-mistakes-my-parents-made person you are today might not be the person you will be 10 years from now. The horror!

This might be hard for some Gen Yers to understand, but us Boomers didn’t always fall asleep on the couch at 10:30pm. There was a time when that was when we left the house to go out.


What does this have to do with Facebook?

What the NYT article is describing is not Facebook’s “existential crisis.” It’s describing someone’s process of getting older, changing, and maturing. Sharing every detail of your life, and what you’re thinking and doing, and keeping up with what all your friends are thinking and doing, is all well and fine when you’re 17. But at 27, those things might not be as important to you, as you get married and have kids. Or at least start down the road to those things. 

Sadly, the NYT writer demonstrates no level of self-awareness to recognize these changes. Even sadder (but not unexpected as far as I’m concerned), no one at the newspaper in an editorial capacity reviewed this article and applied the wisdom of experience that comes with getting older to recognize the changes in the writer for what they are.


Facebook doesn’t have a “existential crisis.” It has a target market problem–“challenge” might be the more appropriate word. The dictionary defines “existential” as “grounded in existence or the experience of existence.” If you have any clue what that means, please tell me.

The NYT writer and her friends–who for the past 10 years have been highly engaged with Facebook and what it offers and provides–are moving on.

Facebook’s problem is that the next wave of young people–today’s 12-18 year-olds–are not as engaged with the social media platform as the prior wave was. Facebook isn’t as cool to them as it was to today’s 20-somethings, as this new wave has Snapchat and Instagram, and other alternatives.

Facebook’s challenge isn’t too different from what a lot of companies face: Does it change with the users who fueled the early growth, or focus on driving engagement with the next wave?

For most companies, the right answer is the latter. It’s awfully tough to reinvent a company to keep up with the lifestage changes of a particular segment of consumers.


For Facebook, it means doing something it didn’t really have to do in its first 10 years of existence: Drive engagement. Facebook is going to have get better at marketing. It’s going to have to grow up and mature as a company–just like its early users have.

Hopefully, Facebook will recognize this aging process, even if some of its users don’t. Even those that work for prestigious newspapers.


p.s. In anticipation of the millions of you (more like the 10s of you), who will read this and say “Hey! I’m 50 and I still post to FB and check my friends’ statuses every day!” I will say this: Good for you. Grow up.

Seriously, though, you may be doing this, and you may continue to do it for the next 30 years. You’re in the minority. You’re not normal (I know that because you’re reading this). 

Oh, and please don’t tell that the “over-50 crowd is the fastest growing segment” of Facebook users. Of course it is. It’s a mathematical phenomenon. When 98% of Gen Yers already use FB, the rate of growth in that segment HAS TO BE lower than when the percentage of Boomers who use FB grows from 10% to 15. Please don’t try to use your mathematical ignorance in an argument against me.