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July 10, 2017

Can Migrants Teach Us Anything about Millennials?

While attending a recent conference, I became involved in a discussion regarding millennials and their alleged rejection of banks. The other people in this conversation thought that this millennial mindset is negatively affecting banks and other financial institutions (FIs). One person cited a Goldman Sachs report that said 53 percent of millennials surveyed indicated they have no need for a bank in the near future. Another mentioned the Millennial Disruption Index, which found that 71 percent of millennials would prefer to go to the dentist than listen to what banks are saying.

It would come as no surprise to those who know me or have read some of my previous blogs on similar topics that I was the outlier in the conversation. And after reading Inter-American Dialogue's May 2017 report, On the Cusp of Change: Migrants’ Use of the Internet for Remittance Transfers, I feel as strongly as ever that this generation will, in fact, need banking relationships.

While the survey behind the report focused on migrants' use of remittance transfers, Inter-American Dialogue also surveyed migrants on bank account ownership. The survey found that over 70 percent of Mexican migrants in the United States own a bank account, up from only 29 percent in 2005. The report concludes, with support from additional survey data, that bank account ownership is predominantly a function of years being in the United States; those migrants here for 10 years or longer are much likelier to own a bank account.

While millennials may not need traditional FI products today as they wait longer to purchase homes and start families than did previous generations, I believe the day will come when they find they need FIs. Only then will we know whether that wait is shorter or longer than the 10 years it takes for most Mexican migrants to establish banking relationships. Millennials have a host of alternative financial products to choose from—and to ignore—but so do migrant workers. Yet we know that, eventually, most migrant workers recognize they need banks.

I am not suggesting that financial institutions simply wait for millennials to realize their need for a banking relationship. FIs should be actively pursuing new products or developing strategies to attract millennials to traditional products. As millennials establish themselves and grow more prosperous, I believe they will realize banking relationships are extremely important to that process. The notion that millennials never need banks is one that I am not buying (not even with my bitcoins). Are you?

Photo of Douglas King By Douglas A. King, payments risk expert in the Retail Payments Risk Forum at the Atlanta Fed

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