Marin Community Foundation
Dressing for Millennial Clients

To Woo Millennials, Financial Advisers Dress the Part

Originally published by Veronica Dagher, Wall St Journal [link] on May 16, 2017

When financial adviser Peter Lee’s assistants schedule his client meetings, they make sure he doesn’t meet with baby boomers and millennials on the same day. The reason: Mr. Lee doesn’t want to bring a change of clothes.

The 38-year-old financial adviser knows that if he wears a suit to meet with most of his millennial clients, he will probably get a bit of side-eye.

“If we’re meeting at a coffee shop and I’m dressed up and the client is in jeans and a T-shirt, it’s going to make everyone feel uncomfortable,” says Mr. Lee, founding partner of Summit Trail Advisors who works in the firm’s Chicago office.

Advisers who work with millennials say dress isn’t the only way they may differ from older generations. Millennials—those born roughly between the early 1980s and the early 2000s—want their adviser to act more like a life coach and aren’t usually interested in hearing advisers’ predictions on how much they need to save now so they can retire later. They also want advisers to be tech-savvy and to host exclusive events, such as parties with famous artists, so they can be treated like VIPs.

Delivering for them makes good business sense even if many don’t have a lot of money now. Millennials are the nation’s largest generation in history, supplanting aging baby boomers. They stand to benefit from an estimated $30 trillion wealth transfer over the next few decades, some of which has already started to occur. And while millennials are more likely than older clients to have student debt, many are saving in their 401(k)s and even in “529” college-savings plans for their children.

Jessica Wilson is a millennial who wanted an adviser’s help partly so she could get a better handle on her cash flow. But every time the Atlanta 35-year-old met with various advisers they used financial jargon. They often pitched various investment products such as annuities that seemed to be geared to older, wealthier clients who were closer to retirement.

“I usually didn’t understand why they made their recommendations,” says Ms. Wilson, who works in business development. She disregarded the advice and didn’t sign on with those advisers.

She had all but given up on finding an adviser when, through a friend, she met Brandon Hayes, a financial adviser at OXYGen Financial Inc., a firm that caters to millennial and generation X clients.

Mr. Hayes helped her create a plan to save more and spend less. She says he spoke in plain language, took time to answer her questions and didn’t judge her lack of financial knowledge.

She liked that he worked with other single women who were around her age and who had similar jobs. He encouraged her to ask for a raise and helped her practice the conversations she would have with her boss. The upshot: Ms. Wilson landed a 33% pay increase.

“He coached me and gave me confidence—something most advisers might reserve for their wealthy clients,” she says.

Evan Schmidt, a financial adviser in Kirkland, Wash., finds that many millennials would like to take a year off from work. In turn, the vice president of Schmidt Financial Group Inc. helps them make a financial plan so they can take a sabbatical.

“Millennials don’t want to wait until they’re retired to live out their dreams,” he says.

And while Mr. Schmidt says his clients work hard, many are interested in having flexible working hours and arrangements that he helps them explore.

Matt Matros, a 37-year-old entrepreneur, says most of the advisers who approached him were predictable. Many would connect with him via a generic LinkedIn request and soon after start sending him emails.

“It was like they almost all had the same playbook. If the euro was up, I’d get emails from advisers pitching their ‘great idea’ related to the euro or they’d send me some ‘white paper’ about it,” he says.

Mr. Matros wasn’t interested. He was getting serious with his girlfriend and needed some advice on how much to save for an engagement ring and a wedding.

He started working with Mr. Lee, the Chicago adviser, formally four years ago, in part because he didn’t seem “stuffy” or “salesy” like the other advisers. Mr. Lee had been a regular customer at Mr. Matros’s business, Protein Bar, a health-food quick serve chain.

Mr. Matros is happy that Mr. Lee doesn’t talk to him about saving for retirement constantly like other advisers did. While he encourages Mr. Matros to save, Mr. Lee is focused on introducing him to other entrepreneurs and helping him expand Limitless Coffee & Tea, a business he co-founded recently.

Mr. Matros also likes that he can text Mr. Lee with questions and enjoys attending exclusive client events.

For example, he recently attended a small party with Hebru Brantley where Mr. Matros not only met the artist but also other like-minded entrepreneurs.

“It was really cool,” he says, “unlike the chicken dinner seminars in hotel conference rooms that some of those other advisers would invite me to.”