Lazy, entitled, technology-addicted narcissists more obsessed with uploading self-portraits onto social media sites and tweeting the contents of their latest meal than contributing meaningfully to society. The constant onslaught of criticism against Generation Y appears to have reached boiling point with the recent lambasting of this rising generation in Time magazine’s feature article by Joel Stein entitled “The me-me-me generation”. Stein paints a grim picture of this age group (otherwise known as the Millennials) which also happens to be the largest generation in history, with some 80 million Millennials in the United States alone – almost double the size of Generation X.
Members of Generation Y have constantly been berated by generational theorists for being money-obsessed, self-absorbed “over-sharers” who live in constant need of acknowledgement and who suffer from overwhelming FOMO (or fear of missing out). FYI and BTW, the fact that they have an acronym for pretty much anything appears to be another trademark of this generation. LOL. It’s argued that their self-worth is measured in the number of Facebook “likes” achieved on any given post, and their overwhelming belief in their entitlement is probably a result of the inordinate number of ‘participation’ trophies awarded at school – futile awards just for bothering to pitch up. Stein opines that Millennials are convinced of their own greatness and obsessed with achieving fame – albeit futile-Kim-Kardashian-style – quoting frightening research revealing that three times as many American school girls aspire to be PA to a famous person rather than become CEO of a major US corporation. Although there’s much to be said about the shortcomings of this generation which ranges from age 13 to 30, there’s no doubt that they’re uniquely fascinating if only in their approach to money and finance.
Having grown up through numerous boom and bust cycles, one might be surprised to know that as investors Generation Y is surprisingly conservative. According to a recent survey by Merrill Lynch, Millennials are savvy, independent and skeptical, with a strong sense of familial and social responsibility. They have an overwhelming desire to build careers doing what the love most, and they want to use their careers as a platform to give back to society. Having witnessed their Baby Boomer parents work long hours for mega-corporations only to lose their pension funds through the stock market crash and the great recession, Millennials are wary of aggressive investing and prefer a “buy and hold” strategy. In fact, the survey shows that 43% of them describe themselves as conservative investors. However, increasing longevity coupled with a desire to extend their careers long after the prescribed retirement age of 65 made meaningless by the boomers, retirement is so far off for the average Millennial that it’s almost not worth talking about.
Lambasted by Stein and commended by Merrill Lynch, it appears that there’s a classic mis-match between the way the world sees the Millennials and who they actually are. Adding to the list of criticism leveled against them, the Millennials are often perceived by financial advisors as being wreckers of the parents’ retirement funding as a result of their penchant to “boomerang” back to the familial home in the face unemployment or under-employment. Given the high rate of Millennials moving back in with their parents (there are more Millennials living at home with their parents that with a spouse) it’s unsurprising that they have less household and credit card debt than any previous generation. Given the status quo, it’s also no surprise then that research shows a huge level of career frustration amongst this generation who seems to be waiting it out in the parental home whilst the Baby Boomers over-stay their welcome in the job market. Undoubtedly the best educated generation in history, it’s somewhat disturbing to know that the net worth of someone aged 29-37 has dropped 21% since 1983. In fact, as a direct result of the recession and the increased longevity of Baby Boomer careers, it’s believed that Generation Y now has the highest likelihood of having unmet expectations and the lowest level of satisfaction with their careers.
Given the challenges facing this interesting generation, one can’t help but feel that much of the criticism leveled against them is fundamentally unfair. Often caricatured as “navel-gazers” for the manner in which they remain fixated with their smart phones, this generation has merely adapted to an environment which isn’t necessarily of their own making. In fact, it’s the Baby Boomers a.k.a. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates et al who invented the very technology that the Millennials are now being chastised for daring to use to its fullness. Being young and adaptable, the Millennials are merely trying to keep pace with a world that changes quicker than a status update, leaving older generations bewildered at Generation Y’s desire to use their smart phones for everything other than talking. The fact that Millennials understand the muscle of their smart phones to change the world is perhaps frightening to those who haven’t yet conceived the power of technology to do good.
Other than using smart phones to price-check and do on-line banking, Millennials have harnessed the power of these intricate little devices to mobilise global action in the form of rape-crisis hotlines, blanket drives for indigent communities and fundraising for victims of tornadoes, tsunamis and earthquakes, while the bureaucratic powers-that-be were still befuddling over red-tape and arguing over landing rights for UN aid workers. Perhaps there’s solid argument that the perceived impatience of this generation is in fact frustration coupled with an overwhelming urgency to get things done. This is a generation of problem-solvers who’ve been raised to believe there’s an app for everything. They’re global natives who, spurred on by the remarkable success of self-made You Tube and social media super-stars, are happy to go it alone in an unshakeable belief that they too can become great.
With an ever-growing client base of Millennials, we’ve found it imperative to evolve our business so as to meet the needs of this exciting group of people. Taking nothing at face value, Millennials are vigilant and full of enterprise. They ask meaningful questions and, with constant online access, they research everything. Like us, they understand the value of fee-based financial planning and, in our experience, are both socially and financially responsible. Far from being narcissistic and self-absorbed, we delight in this generation’s diverse passion for causes which range from saving the environment, finding homes for rescue dogs, to ensuring the welfare of their retired parents. In spite of the seemingly unfair arsenal of criticism leveled against the Millennials, we choose to believe in their ability to make this world a more beautiful place.
Have a super day!