Financial Literacy in Gen-Z

Sibylle Fischer
August 29, 2022
Innovation
How can financial institutions build trust with the “digital-first” generation?

Gen-Z adults, or individuals currently between the ages of 18-25, are presenting a unique and complex puzzle to financial institutions trying to earn and deepen trust with the first generation born entirely during the digital age. Sophisticated and stressed out in equal measure – data shows that this group is only willing to trust brands that know exactly the right way to earn their loyalty. So how can financial institutions put their best foot forward? To start, they need to understand what motivates and moves this important customer segment.

Digitally native

As the first totally digitally-native generation, Gen-Zers tend to live in a world that feels hyper-connected, where time zones and geography can often feel personally irrelevant, and where there’s little distinction between life online and life offline (most Gen-Zers report getting their first smartphone before the age of 12). Gen-Zers deeply understand the power of social media and can use it effectively for a variety of purposes – to create community, organize, comment, share and shop. This innate comfort with social media gives them more influence and even purchasing power than some of their older generational peer groups.

A chaotic coming of age

Growing up in a global recession and then coming of age during the COVID-19 pandemic, many Gen-Zers are worried about the lasting impact of the pandemic on their education and career prospects. Add to that Gen-Zers’ declining confidence in our most traditionally trusted institutions – from law enforcement to news media to government – and you can see why the need for safety and security consistently ranks among Gen-Zers very highest priorities.

Truth in everything

As consumers, Gen-Z adults are serious skeptics, rarely taking anything at face value. A recent Edelman special report, The Power of Gen-Z, found that 70% of Gen-Zers reported always fact checking what brands say, especially on owned media channels. Gen-Zers also look to see their values and beliefs reflected by the brands they do business with. According to the same Edelman special report, top causes for Gen-Zers include climate change, poverty, COVID-19 and gender equality. 85% of Gen-Z respondents reported that trusting a brand was critical to their purchasing decisions and an overwhelming 90% reported their expectation for brands to be involved in causes that “improve the world.”

Financially sophisticated or low on financial literacy?

While some recent studies report Gen-Zers have the lowest levels of financial literacy of any of the past 5 generations, others have crowned them the most financially sophisticated generation, ever. This kind of conflicting financial picture is part of what makes marketing to Gen-Z so complex. Because of their aptitude for social media, Gen-Zers know more about investing at their age than perhaps any other previous generation, yet most feel they couldn’t explain how the stock market works to a friend. Theirs is a wide net, cast in shallow waters. Still, this self-aware generation seems to know what they don’t know, and acknowledge they are at the beginning of their journey toward financial independence. As a group, Gen-Zers are most comfortable getting their financial literacy content online, tend to be debt-averse (having watched their parents struggle), and they show interest in emerging financial technologies, like cryptocurrencies and NFTs.

Proving trustworthiness

Addressing Gen-Z customers effectively will mean delivering them the content they want, when and how they want it. Emphasis on digital assets should be prioritized, as well as transparent, values-focused communications. Gen-Zers love video (YouTube and video in general are Gen Z's preferred learning platform) and it's also the way they are most likely to consume finance-related information. Finally, financial institutions looking to build trust with Gen-Zers need to emphasize the we over me – or putting the needs of the community over the individual (treatment of employees is critical to Gen-Zers; as is a company’s track record of giving back). Edelman calls this “belief-driven buying and values-driven employment.” Gen-Zers are prioritizing integrity, authenticity and dependability, and looking to stand with brands and businesses that reflect those same sentiments back at them.