Client relationships: A growing generation gap?

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By Phyllis Weiss Haserot
This is part of a series of regular columns by generational expert and internationally known consultant, coach, writer, and speaker Phyllis Weiss Haserot on intergenerational relations and navigating the challenges of the multi-generational workplace for better productivity, retention, succession planning, and business development results.

Many of the stories I hear are about generational differences in the workplace within an organization. They are usually stories of frustration, often humorous, sometimes overly critical and despairing. As important as these situations are, let's look for a moment at differences that can either destroy client relationships or energize and enhance them.

Even before Gen Y/Millennials hit the workplace, partners and others were worrying about Generation X, fearing that they didn't know how to properly relate to clients of an older generation. In a client relationship, there may be less behavioral flexibility tolerated than within a firm.

Gen Y needs a greater awareness of what Baby Boomers and Traditionalists, especially clients, consider appropriate behavior, ways of communicating, and service levels. The more senior professionals in the firm need to speak respectfully with the younger generations to explain the "why" behind expecting certain ways of behaving, even when they think their expectations should be obvious and common sense. It may not be common sense to young people who grew up in a different social environment with different rules (or lack of them). It is crucial to develop a sense of trust and transparency among the generations to give and take constructive criticism and best serve clients so that they will stay in the fold.

The Financial Advice Generation Gap

Demographic changes are showing up in some unexpected ways. Money is at stake - not just for a business, but also for personal estate and retirement planning. Smart Money magazine reported a trend toward older clients with younger advisers in the financial services field. A generation gap is developing as one in five aspiring certified financial planners (CFPs) are in their 20s (Gen Y). This represents a 21% increase in the last four years. Overall the average age of new CFPs has dropped. Given the still growing need for accountants, a shift in balance is also occurring in the CPA population.

Generational DefinitionsHere are some quick definitions. Generations are defined by the similar formative influences – social, cultural, political, economic – that existed as the individuals of particular birth cohorts were growing up. Given that premise, the age breakdowns for each of the four generations currently in the workplace are approximately:

Traditionalists born 1925-1942
Baby Boomers born 1943-1962
Generation X born 1963-1978
Generation Y/Millennials born 1979-1998 (under age 30 today)

It is likely that more and more Baby Boomers will be getting their financial advice and having their money managed by a generation similar in age to their adult children. This is bound to be difficult emotionally and psychologically on both sides. Just as when older workers report to younger managers, respect and trust must be built early. Frequently the Boomers feel that their experience/track record and judgment gets short shrift by a generation with new ideas short on perspective. The Gen Ys think they are not being taken seriously and are underestimated because of their lack of experience and tenure.

Clearly, they need each other. Those new CPAs and CFPs will need to take time to understand the viewpoints, perspective, fears, and needs of their older clients. And the Boomer clients will need to take the time to learn what their young advisers bring to the table. Focusing on the common goals, they need to learn to talk each other's language. It may take stretching comfort levels and some astute and sensitive coaching.

© Phyllis Weiss Haserot, 2009. All rights reserved.
Phyllis Weiss Haserotis the president of Practice Development Counsel, a business development and organizational effectiveness consulting and coaching firm she founded over 20 years ago. A special focus is on the profitability of improving inter-generational relations and transitioning planning for baby boomer senior partners. Haserot is the author of "The Rainmaking Machine" and "The Marketer's Handbook of Tips & Checklists" (both Thomson/West 2008).

See all of the articles in this series.

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