A Lost Generation No More: How to Work with Xennial Clients

Journal of Financial Planning: August 2018


Generational labels are everything these days. Are you a millennial, a baby boomer, or part of Generation X? Almost everyone uses these classifications to generalize and decipher the behavior and motivations of huge swathes of the population, from the media and consumer marketing gurus to HR departments and, yes, even financial planners.

But what if you don’t fit into any of these generational categories? Those of us born between the narrow window of 1977 and 1983 know what it feels like to be overlooked, without a generational nomenclature to call our own. That’s because while we understand and are adaptive to technology, unlike our millennial peers, we didn’t grow up with social media profiles or even high-speed internet. And while we reveled in an angsty youth similar to our Gen-X counterparts, we were never quite as reticent to adapt. 

Defining Xennials

Until now, I thought we might as well have been called the “lost generation,” but apparently there is a new classification to describe us—Xennials, a group of tech-forward optimists who embrace change, but not at the expense of personal communication or privacy. You see, Xennials didn’t grow up with that much technology. We loathed the Dewey Decimal System but knew we needed it. And while the internet came about during our middle school and high school years, it didn’t work that fast, and certainly wasn’t proliferated the way it is today.

Now, as adults, we’ve adapted to technology with ease, but we also want a bit of privacy. We like to text, but we also crave old-school conversation. Recognizing and distinguishing these generational traits is an interesting pastime, but it also plays into how we work with our financial clients, particularly as Xennials begin to accumulate more personal wealth.

For example, boomers have seen so many ups and downs in their lifetime that they’re relatively immune to market swings. Millennials, who got hit with the Great Recession just as they entered the workforce, are generally thought to be risk averse. Xennials? Our mini-generation may be even more risk averse, having lived through times of great volatility, starting with the dot-com era, followed by the dip after 9/11, and then more significantly followed by the Great Recession.

Keep It Simple

When working with Xennials, it’s helpful to keep financial planning advice focused and simple. Both partners tend to work full-time, and their children are still small. They prefer basic exhibits and quick summaries of the top three or four items they need to keep in mind to move their financial situation forward.

  While it’s typical among older generations for the husband to make the financial decisions, among Xennials both partners are equally informed about their overall financial situation and strategies. Every meeting and decision a planner makes with Xennial clients should include both partners.

  Of course, each new generation is also influenced by their parents’ financial behavior. Boomers, like their parents in the silent generation, invested heavily in their children’s education. And although the boomer generation has created vast wealth, many continue to work longer than they need to out of fear of running out of money. In contrast, while their Xennial children understand the importance of saving, they also have some (perhaps over-inflated) expectations of an inheritance.

Many Xennials have a deep desire to be more successful than their parents in every way. This means outperforming their parents financially, even if they can expect an inheritance, choosing a meaningful career, and having more fun along the way—healthier lifestyles, more vacations, more time with the kids. My focus is on helping them create a well-funded savings plan in line with these goals. Additionally, I often counsel them on how to factor in an inheritance without allowing it to become a crutch that prevents them from being adequately and independently prepared.

At the end of the day, while understanding these different generational traits and needs is very helpful in the work we do as financial planners, it’s just a small part of the whole picture. A good planner will also appreciate that every client is different. It’s just as important to me to understand my clients’ personal needs, challenges, goals, and concerns—whatever generation they come from. 

Lonny S. Greenberg, CFP®, is a senior adviser with Singer Xenos Schechter Sosler Wealth Management in Miami, Florida.

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