Not too many years ago, millennials, or roughly anyone ages 25 to 40, were the focus of significant derision from baby boomers and Gen Xers. Labeled the “Me Me Me” generation, millennials were thought to be narcissistic, self-indulgent, and entitled. They were also disproportionately not hitting life benchmarks, such as buying a home or having kids, at the same rate as previous generations.
The crisis about millennials has mostly faded, and with the exception of some Gen Zer mockery, most attention on millennials now has to do with home buying, career transitions during COVID-19, and millennials taking over prime-time advertising slots.
Lost in much of the waning hysteria over millennials, but highlighted in our recent report SMB Payments and Millennials: Millennials Expect More, is that many millennials now own and operate small and midsize businesses (SMBs), and the percentage of millennial-owned SMBs will only grow with time. While some generational arguments don’t stand up to scrutiny, what is clear from our recent data is that millennial business owners have clear preferences and higher expectations in their commercial banking practices.
Millennial-Operated SMBs and Banking
There is a stark contrast between commercial bank expectations among baby boomer- and Gen X-run SMBs and their millennial counterparts. Based on extensive surveying, millennial-run SMBs are far more likely to consider alternatives to traditional banks to run their finances, privilege online banking channels, and have higher levels of interest in payment modernization.
As an age cohort, millennials are surprisingly less confident regarding knowledge of payment and commercial banking, which, coupled with higher levels of digital fluency and having lived through accelerated technological change in banking practices during the COVID-19 pandemic, seems to have resulted in a greater degree of openness regarding new banking and payment tools.
Millennials grew up during a period of rapid digitization and technological innovation, so it is unsurprising that millennial business owners not only have high expectations with respect to banks, payments, and digital offerings, but also expect more help and guidance from their banking partners.
While millennials wanting more may harken back to some of that generational bashing, they don’t necessarily want more for less. In fact, a surprising observation from recent research is that millennial-run SMBs seek long-term, mutually beneficial relationships with financial services partners and are willing to pay more for banking services than other generations.
For example, millennial-owned businesses are already nearly twice as likely to situate within higher monthly payment categories than baby boomer-owned businesses and show very high levels of interest in updated electronic payment platforms.
Like any business owners, millennials view keeping costs low as a priority—however, they broadly view technology integration positively and understand payment modernization as a key investment in growing their businesses. Millennial SMB owners have high expectations for banking services, and these expectations offer a crucial opportunity for banks to provide value-added payment and other capabilities.
Inflation and SMBs
Millennial-run SMBs are significantly more open to working with a variety of banking and financial service providers that can better meet their needs, offer more capabilities, and provide a more personalized and contextually relevant level of service. While the last few years have proven a challenge for many SMBs, it looks like the next few months, if not longer, will see this trend continue as SMBs keep contending with disrupted supply chains and rising levels of inflation.
As SMB owners seek to navigate these challenges and better manage their liquidity and cash-flow, they will be open to working with partners that can help them in the near term. Be it fintech firms, neobanks or traditional SMB banking providers, there is an opportunity for financial institutions to develop and strengthen their relationships with millennial-run businesses.
Loyalty among SMBs is changing. More than just a commoditized banking relationship, millennial SMBs are looking for partners, and this has the potential to lead to growth or loss depending on banks’ willingness to meet these needs head on.