Many of my peers say the word with a sneer and hint of disparagement often reserved for their most bitter rivals. Yet in my travels and work at Andesa, a company in which over half our team of employee-owners is under age 40, I have found the typical labels attached to this generation to be just misapplied generalities. I encounter individuals who have unique stories, seek opportunities to contribute and want to make a difference. In other words, my millennial colleagues are distinctive personalities not defined by generational stereotypes.
I recently sat with a small group of Andesa employees to talk about millennial perceptions and their reflections of working in the insurance industry. My key takeaways from those conversations follow.
Proud to be a Millennial – Maybe!
While none of my Andesa colleagues would necessarily wear a “Proud to Be a Millennial” T-shirt (OK – well maybe Hallie would), they would also not use generational adjectives to define themselves. Being of millennial age is a celebration of the individual – it’s about individual values – they decide on their own who they are rather than be defined by some community or another generation.
This is a generation that evolved with technology as children, not as adults. Technology is widely accepted and embraced for work, networking, communicating, shopping and problem solving. This generation is in the midst of a transition away from college experiences to more family-oriented activities and professional achievement. This generational transition translates to a positive impact on society and in the workplace. Among the Andesa group, there was a sense that things have shifted towards a more positive reflection of the millennial generation over the past several years.
It was fascinating for me to consider that millennials “get judged while still growing up.” Everything is documented and instantly on-line; recorded and shared and irreversible because of access. “What is on-line is attached to you forever.” Contrast this to my baby-boomer peer group. Imagine Baby Boomer generational conclusions if social media and cell phones existed in the 60’s. We are much more comfortable being recognized for our contributions over the course of our lives and grateful we aren’t judged and labeled solely by our “Sex, Drugs and Rock-n-Roll” years. In other words, perhaps we should give millennials a break and see how their passion, social mindset and ecological awareness will impact our world over the next decades.
Recovering from the perfect storm
Student-loan debt serves as a microcosm of the millennial dilemma. Many were in school or recent graduates when the financial crisis struck in 2008. There was a significant gap between college graduates’ expectations and the post-college job market. Many entry-level jobs did not require a college degree, and those which did usually expected some years of experience. Unable to find a valued career opportunity, many stayed in school for advanced degrees, further exacerbating debt levels. The short-term return on education investment has yet to flip to positive territory. Higher education “regret” has crept into the generation lexicon.
Large portions of the generation are early in their career and have yet to come close to their peak earning years. For most, it will take almost a decade post-graduation before they emerge from their personal education debt burden.
The debt dilemma, however, results in delays in marriage (if at all) or the postponement of starting a family for many. The small millennial group with whom I met expressed concern about their financial future. However, like many in preceding generations, they live pay-check-to-pay-check and do not see themselves getting ahead anytime soon. They are attracted by careers in companies which align with their personal values, and offer stability as well as career growth.
Life Insurance? – Not a priority unless it is
Andesa employee-owners have life insurance under a group benefit plan which provides a life insurance benefit of one times salary at no cost to the employee. In addition, the employee has the option of coverage up to two times salary, capped at $100,000, for a small premium. No one in our small discussion group had taken advantage of the ease of enrollment and group pricing of the additional voluntary benefit offered. Only one of the members has additional life insurance due to extenuating family circumstances. This did not surprise me in the least, and surely contributes to recent studies that reflect a stagnate life insurance market.
The delay of marriage and families, coupled with dual careers and incomes and other more pressing financial priorities, reduce the perceived need for a life insurance policy for a large number of those in the millennial generation. “Life insurance is the last thing on my mind,” noted one of my colleagues; while another asked, “Insurance is for peace of mind, but where does a life insurance premium fit into my budget?” In particular, the absence of child dependents reduces the need for life insurance in favor of more pressing financial priorities like car payments, rent, saving for a house, student -loan debt and saving for retirement. At this stage of life, the group life benefit Andesa offers appeared to be more than adequate to provide peace of mind for the small group discussion participants.
It takes a tough person to work in a tough industry
The reaction most of our staff receives when they talk about their jobs with friends and family is an eye roll, unwanted pity and a quick change of subject. One member of the group noted, “I have enough self-confidence and sense of self-worth so that it doesn’t bother me.” However, it certainly appears our industry could do with an image make-over.
From an insurance-industry-insider perspective, the added challenge of insurance lingo and buzz words must be overcome to effectively communicate with co-workers and clients. It is sort of a right-of-passage that one needs to “prove self-worth to those around you” in order to be accepted.
Despite the challenges, the group’s collective advice for their millennial counterparts seeking a job is to consider the insurance industry. They appreciate the stability and the fact that most companies have goals that coincide with their own. The group expressed the opinion that it is possible to find a company that is socially aware, which encourages achievement of personal and professional goals and provides opportunities for volunteer work to grow and contribute to the greater good in other ways.
One of the biggest issues facing the insurance industry is awareness. The group was unanimous in noting that very little on-line presence is being felt by their generation in regards to life insurance. Advertisements are not targeted enough, and it doesn’t appear there is any attempt to reach the millennial generation through online stories and exposure. “Are companies even paying for the ads they want to reach these audiences?” asked one of the members.
Many in the group noted that insurance advertising is name and brand-awareness targeted. “Tag lines have nothing to do with the product being sold.” Life insurance needs to be more transparent about products, what they are and why you need them. Portrayals of need must vary by generation. The group suggested that perhaps a reasonable, needs-based, life policy bundled with their auto insurance, for example, might attract more people.
The perception of underwriting and contract fine print also detracts from the industry. In a “Go Fund Me,” internet-based, risk share world, why does the industry continue to demand so much red tape for a basic-needs life policy?
I asked the group where they would go for insurance questions or if they needed help in this regard. Not surprisingly, the group indicated they would not rely on any one source of information, but would do on-line research and reach out to family, peers, or in our case, industry colleagues. “I would gather all the information, think about it and then draw my own conclusion before I bought,” stated one member of the group.
Best advice for the insurance carriers looking to attract millennials: effective communication and education are critical to build trusted brand loyalty. Create products that millennials want, value and understand. These products may not be the traditional offerings. Even better, if products can be tied to those which help with financial wellness (retirement, health, savings, auto insurance etc.), they become even more attractive.
Generational statistics are informative, but if you want to build a winning team or attract the next generation of talent, you have to know and value each individual. Every person, no matter their generational label, wants to be respected, feel valued, contribute, grow personally and make a difference. Invest the time to invest in someone.