Engaging Gen Y Through Cards

The Millennials (Gen Y) are here – all 83 million of them – and they have the purchasing power and influence to change the world. Will your credit union have what it takes to acquire them?


This group, born between 1977 and 1994, are the sons and daughters of the Baby Boomers.  It is estimated that by 2009 they will have a buying power of $500 billion.  When you couple that with the fact that they will be 64% of the market by 2014, it is imperative that credit unions step up to the plate to understand their mind set and capture their loyalty. 

The Millennials (Gen Y) are a very diverse group that is highly wired and financially aware.  They grew up in a positive political and economic climate, where they were empowered by parents.  This is also the first generation of “Everybody Gets a Trophy”– thus leading to their need to be rewarded for participation rather than achievement, which fuels their love of rewards.

Technology has played such an important role in shaping this generation by allowing them to create and maintain elaborate networks and giving them what they want, when they want it.  For this group, customization is the norm – not a novelty.  They expect products and services with embedded solutions.

Credit unions are in a unique position to engage the Millennials, thereby deepening loyalty and moving them through the member lifecycle.  This generation is optimistic, and proud of the ‘badge value’ of their lifestyle (school, job, religious organization etc.).  They are also group oriented and can easily be enticed by credit unions’ inclusive “membership.”  In addition, the co-operative structure of credit unions allows them to feel they’re in control.

Below are some best practices for marketing to the Millennials:

Know and communicate with your audience

  • High School - Parents as decision maker – student as the influencer
  • College Students - Student as decision maker – parent as influencers
  • Young Professionals – Self as decision maker – friends as influencers
Ensure your product offering meets their needs

  • A competitive payment strategy is essential
  • Their technical expertise are stellar and they demand mobile banking opportunities
  • Consider student cards and other youthful products
    • Ascend FCU won a CSCU Cameo Award for their three youth accounts.  Each of the accounts are geared to different age groups and offer specific products.

Appeal to their lifestyle and consumption habits

  • Overcome the student audience’s propensity to ignore mailed offer
  • Member service is paramount
  • Communication that is not self-serving is essential – cards on their birthdays, waiving of that month’s interest charge, welcome to the neighborhood notes, etc.
Demystify credit for them

  • In a recent survey of Millennials over the age of 18, 62% of them could not recall what the APR was on their most used credit card
    • Take advantage of tools like CSCU’s FLEX, a quarterly financial literacy newsletter specifically geared towards this age group that can be branded by credit unions.
  • Address their skepticism that card companies are not looking out for their best interest and provide simple facts on how to build credit and why it’s in the card issuers’ best interest for them to have good credit
  • Make the font size of “fine print” more readable.  When it’s very small, it makes them feel like you are trying to sneak something by them
    • Since much of fine print is required by law, consider creating a website that helps cardholders “decode” what it means in layman’s terms

Incentives and Rewards

  • Use incentives that are relevant and of high perceived value
    • Music downloads, ringtones, MMS video, etc.
    • Do not invest too much in the premium – remember that some students may only want the premium and not activate or use the card once they receive it
  • Offer rewards 
    • Remember that customization is important to them, so if possible allow them to customize their reward if possible
  • Offer merchant offers that are of interest to youth market

Ensure your messaging is effective

  • Group visuals and a youthful tone will work best
  • Be creative, fun and unique
  • Use attention-getting, but relevant, graphics and design elements
  • Have a youth section on your website

When marketing to the youth, just remember that the more student-focused the experience, the better the channel will work to drive applications and/or usage behavior, because it is perceived as relevant.  You should also take advantage of technology to engage and convert student prospects.

Debit cards continue to be the preferred method of payment among Gen Y. Join us this Thursday as we discuss this trend and other key factors that are having an impact on the debit card market.



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Nov. 3, 2008


  • Good ideas in the article.
  • Great content. Full of practical, useful information.