By Ron Daly, President/CEO
Virtual StrongBox

Everybody’s talking about Millennials. Ask any marketing professional, and you’ll be told Millennials are the target audience.Pick up a B2B magazine, and there they are. And in the banking industry, where the average customer’s age is about 50, discussions center on how vital these 18-34 year olds are to your institution’s long-term survival.

Of course, banks have always been more or less available to young adults; they just weren’t a very lucrative demographic. There were plenty of more profitable accounts to service, and it wasn’t that easy to change banks. Now, that’s changed. The 80-million-strong Millennials have money to spend and influence with their peers and others.

Millennials are tech-smart

Compared with past generations, Millennials are more educated, politically independent, convenience-driven, environmentally aware and socially connected. And they’re tech-smart. No surprise – their world has been shaped by the Internet, smartphones and instant access to … everything.

Millennials’ connection to technology is what many of them believe makes their generation unique. A White House Council of Economic Advisors’ 2014 study says, “their unprecedented enthusiasm for technology has the potential to bring change to traditional economic institutions.” Further, the report notes, this includes raising capital for startups from online crowdfunding sources, instead of traditional sources like banks to grow their businesses.

Still, Millennials represent $200 billion in buying power and they are open to financial options. Banks that meet them on their own technology turf have new opportunities to respond to their felt needs – such as financial planning.

Most Millennials rely on their parents for financial advice, but there’s room for banks to reach out, especially online. Virtual financial advisor iQuantifi noted in its new Millennials Mindset Survey that while nearly three-fourths of this generation sets financial goals, only a fifth of them have a plan to achieve those goals. Some 60 percent say increasing their overall savings is a major objective in the next year, and 76 percent say they would consider turning to a free app or online tool for help. Most know they need advice; their question is where to go where they will be respected – not patronized.

But they’re also tech-dumb

Even after growing up with the Internet since grade school, Millennials also could use some financial education about taking data protection seriously. Given the large volumes of data they produce, you’d think Millennials would know the importance of keeping personal information private. Instead, they tend to place convenience or personal fulfillment ahead of safety. And for that, they’ve earned the nickname “Generation Leaky.”

A USC Annenberg Center for the Digital Future and Bovitz Inc. survey suggests that 70 percent of Milennials say no one should have access to their data, yet 25 percent will trade it away for more relevant advertising; 56 percent will share their location for coupons or deals; and 51 percent say they’ll share info with companies if they get something in return. Security professional Chris Rouland said it well, blogging on CSO online news that “

[Millennials] will pay double for organic bread … but place seemingly no value on the integrity and security of their PPI, let alone the consequences a hack could have on their friends, family, colleagues and employers.”

Should financial institutions be doing more to educate this population? It will take some effort to earn their trust, but It’s an effort worth making to engage the generation that will soon overtake all others in spending power. Millennials are known for preferring to work for – and buy from – companies that make a difference, those that give back to their communities. So think creatively, and offer services that make a difference in their financial wellbeing.

Give them more than a cookie

A story goes that a New York City artist conducted an unscientific survey during a street fair last year, offering Millennials gourmet cookies in exchange for sharing personal data. More than half provided the last four digits of their social security number and about a third provided fingerprints and driver’s license information. For a free cookie!

Serving Millennials’ means understanding how they differ from other generations, and one important way is the huge volume of data they generate, like videos, photos, online purchase details and personal files. They create online documents like no other population … and they need a protected place to store them. Today, Millennials are also graduating from college, landing first jobs, getting married, making larger purchases – life events that come with diplomas and academic records, car titles, insurance policies, medical records and wedding certificates, items that ought to be safely stored.

At Virtual StrongBox, Inc., we’ve designed specialized document storage that blends Internet convenience with safe deposit security. My Virtual StrongBox stores bank customers’ files online, in a secure document library or, if preferred, behind online banking – not simply in a temporary storage drop or transfer station. Customers’ data is housed in SSAE 16 certified data centers and encrypted at rest and in transit via our patented process.

What better way for banks wanting to earn the trust of Millennials than by offering them a free service they both need and have the tech smarts to appreciate it? And give them cookies, too, if you want.