Generation Z may have missed out on the dawn of online banking in the mid-1990s, but its members are nevertheless in a prime position to influence the future of the financial services industry.
Not only are Gen Zers visiting branches at an average of six times per month, as we shared in our recent Forbes article “Rethinking IRL Retail Marketing—For Banking and Beyond,” but new research from Morning Consult indicates that Gen Zers are significantly more likely than older adults to open new accounts with banks, credit unions and credit cards. This translates to big numbers: Gen Z members are expected to open more than four million new accounts each year through 2026, Insider Intelligence reports.
Gen Z’s surge into adulthood offers banking institutions a prime opportunity to attract new deposits and fee-generating customers. (Demographers typically define Gen Z as the 70 million people born in the United States between 1997 and 2012, putting them between the ages of 12 and 27 this year.) Traditionally, once someone establishes an account at a bank and builds a level of trust, research suggests they tend to stay loyal and rarely change affiliations.
Convincing Gen Z to choose your financial institution over another presents marketing and messaging challenges given what’s known about the Gen Zers and their values, preferences and behaviors. Reaching Gen Z “requires tech and social savvy, real value and real advice,” according to Insider Intelligence’s Tyler Brown.
Gen Z is making money moves
A key insight that makes this a high priority for banks: Research shows that members of Gen Z have a strong desire for independence—especially in financial matters.
One in four members of Gen Z plan to open their own bank account over the next six months, compared to just 10% for the general population, according to Morning Consult’s survey. Around three-fourths already have bank accounts, but these are typically opened jointly with a parent or other adult, Morning Consult notes.
The transition from joint accounts to independence makes Gen Z “banks’ biggest customer acquisition opportunity,” Insider Intelligence says, noting that the members of Gen Z are “more social- and value-driven than older generations.”
That means focusing on data-driven online and offline marketing strategies, as well as staying on the cutting-edge technologically, says Devon Craig, Head of Financial Services Marketing at Quad. Robust banking apps and online experiences are a must. Insider Intelligence estimates that the Gen Z user base for digital banking will reach 45 million in 2025, up from 22.7 million in 2020.
“Gen Z grew up with technology everywhere,” Craig says. “They expect apps and websites with a positive user experience. So, if banks and other financial institutions want to appeal to Gen Z, the first digital natives, they need to invest in making the digital experience seamless. It’s a non-negotiable.”
Gen Z banking gets personal
At the same time, Craig notes, Gen Z still values in-real-life connection and wants to build and maintain trusted relationships, despite growing up with tech. “Banks also need to offer a human touch to win with Gen Z,” Craig says. “Offering personalized services at local branches, such as one-to-one financial advice and education, may be a way for brands to earn Gen Z’s loyalty. Much of the work we do at Quad is focused on seamlessly integrating the offline and online environments for our financial services clients.”
Attention to technology also means being active on social media. More than 40% of Gen Zers and Millennials say they turn to social networks to learn about banking brands and obtain financial advice.
“Today’s younger generations stay informed through authentic connections,” says Megan McConkey, Director of Media Strategy at Rise Interactive, a Quad company. “They rely on content creators on social platforms like YouTube, Instagram and TikTok to discover and build long-term relationships.
“This mindset is also true when it comes to making financial decisions and gaining insights on banks. To build trust with Gen Z, financial institutions need engaging and native-feeling content in the places where this audience spends their time.”
Creating in-branch appeal
To answer the call for valuable in-real-life experiences, banks are seeking new ways to reinvent the once-common experience of visiting a branch.
Capital One opened its first Capital One Café more than 20 years ago and the concept continues to live on, with the bank investing in a refresh of its network of 50 branch-café locations across 18 states and Washington, D.C. Many recent changes focus on targeting younger consumers, such as providing co-working spaces and free mentoring and workshops on personal finance.
Others are creating interactive teller capabilities. Bank of America, for instance, is experimenting with “robo branches”—tellerless locations that offer technology for transactions with the opportunity to teleconference with a remote teller if needed.
Generation Z is helping drive these efforts. Almost half of Gen Zers say they value brick-and-mortar bank branches because they provide “peace of mind,” according to the Oliver Wyman Forum’s Global Consumer Sentiment (GCS) survey. The research, particularly as it pertains to Generation Z, highlights what analysts describe as the “human + digital challenge.”
“Generation Z is really pushing banks to transform and offer the best of both worlds—digital convenience as well as meaningful in-person connections,” says Erin Slater, Head of Financial Services Strategy at Quad. “Our work with modern financial services marketers reveals again and again that consumers do not think in channels—they think about the holistic brand experience and are seeking financial services partners who provide elevated experiences across the offline and online environments.”