Generational Thoughts On Credit Card Account Acquisition

Lifecycle stage and peer group influence card members, so issuers should leverage appropriate marketing tactics that cater to the representative generation.


Financial institutions have historically focused on lifecycle marketing to target and offer financial products to customers. This model remains dominant within the credit card sector. For example, FIs typically graduate card members who start with a young adult or student product into a no frills low-rate card and then into a rich, spend-centric reward product. However, the consumer landscape has dramatically shifted in recent years and a number of new post-recession trends have emerged, including:

  • There is a slow rise in economic optimism coupled with consumer deleveraging.
  • Generation Y — the largest segment in the market — faces a series of unprecedented hurdles.
  • The landscape and consumer sentiment quickly shifts in response to unforeseen events, such as the Target breach.

These trends might lead more credit card issuers to examine the market from a generational marketing approach in conjunction with a lifecycle approach. Both lifecycle stage as well as peer group influences current and potential card members. Within this framework, issuers would be wise to leverage appropriate marketing tactics that include the development of products, communication strategies, and technological solutions that cater to the representative generation. Below are today’s largest generational segments along with their related qualities and needs.


Considerations In Generational Marketing

The following are some considerations for developing marketing strategies by generational segment.

Gen Y

  • Leverage online/mobile communication strategies given this generation’s communication preferences.
  • Provide products that help with financial stability — debit/prepaid/secured cards — to help them work through early life financial pain points; many millennials are driven to obtain and then properly manage a credit line.
  • Consider offering tools that help with security — mobile wallets, text alerts — and engage them in social media platforms. Invest in a robust credit education strategy given this generation’s need for financial education, research, and comparison.

Gen X  

  • Gen X members expect a low barrier to entry. They want quick loan applications and decisions, which offers an opportunity for prescreened or prepopulated forms.
  • This segment is not adverse to technology. It has high adoption rates to new technologies and spending power behind it.
  • Gen X is highly trusting of credit cards — members were raised on them — but still look to use debit products as well. This group finds simplicity in products and rewards attractive given predisposition to use.
  • Gen X tends to look for enticing value propositions within an active lifestyle. Credit unions should potentially look to build out rewards programs that focus on everyday spending such as bonus structure, earn categories, etc.

Baby Boomers

  • Consider creating and leveraging a relationship-based product that adds to the value of the overall relationship with the institution as this group defaults to making relationship-based decisions.
  • Focus on acquisition channels that rely on previous relationships; branch-sourced and direct mail sourced accounts are still highly effective.
  • Don’t disregard high-value rewards because this generation is not afraid to use cards for large ticket purchases and will seek the appropriate value for that behavior.


Benefit And Forward Path

A credit union will benefit by employing an effective marketing and communication plan based on these generational segments. Using Gen Y as an example, your credit union has the opportunity to form a lifelong and meaningful relationship. With a Boomer, your credit union can maintain a stable, mutually beneficial relationship. Implementing a well-rounded acquisition, communication and product strategy will capture relationships in all segments. These relationships crate a solid foundation to build enhanced member relationships. 

Credit unions have the option of developing these channels in-house or outsourcing to a partner who can facilitate and manage the process. When considering your options, it would be wise to vet all available options to fully understand the implications. Outsourcing allows a credit union to take advantage of economies of scale to better target these segments and effectively service members. With the right partner, an institution’s credit card program can thrive and the institution can allocate its internal resources to other core projects.

About The Author
Elan Financial Services is the leading credit card provider in the industry and offers partners the availability of immediate access to a suite of products that competes with national issuers, technology solutions that cater to audiences across the spectrum, and free access to a marketing engine that helps generate accounts. Elan’s unique platforms help its partner institutions reach all segmentations. 

Elan is America’s largest agent credit card provider. For more than 47 years, Elan has delivered exceptional card products and service to more than 350 credit unions. For more information, call (800) 223.7000 or visit


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