Want to Attract Millennials? Just Ask Them What They Want

January 11th, 2017

millennials-1-11-17.pngHarrisburg, Pennsylvania-based Centric Bank, with $463 million in assets, wants to attract young customers to do business with the bank, and the up-and-coming talent needed for its future success. To make that happen, CEO Patricia Husic and her team are going straight to the source by partnering with a local young professionals’ organization.

In early 2016, Husic addressed Harrisburg Young Professionals (HYP), a civic organization with members averaging 25 to 35 years old, as part of a breakfast series that brought in CEOs from the community to speak to the group. Soon after, she and Derek Whitesel, HYP’s executive director, met at Husic’s request to discuss how the two organizations could partner to create an advisory board to help the bank understand the unique qualities of the millennial generation.

“It’s such an important piece for us, as a community bank, to look at how we make ourselves relevant to the millennial group” as clients and potential employees, says Husic.

On paper, the millennial generation should be a boon for the banking industry. Working millennials in the U.S., at 53.5 million, surpassed Generation X (52.7 million) and the baby boomers (44.6 million) in the 1st quarter 2015, according to Pew Research, which defines millennials as those born after 1980. The financial needs of millennials are growing, as they balance record levels of student loan debt with traditional desires like home ownership. But the first digital generation is also more open to up-and-coming mobile providers to meet its financial needs and has been reticent to work for the traditional banking industry, whose reputation has taken a beating since the financial crisis.

Centric isn’t the first bank to establish a millennial advisory group. Since 2009, Minneapolis-based U.S. Bancorp has selected millennial employees to provide input on various company initiatives, from mobile app design to employee benefits. Nearby Mid Penn Bancorp, in Millersburg, Pennsylvania with $1 billion in assets, formed its own millennial advisory board in 2016 to better meet the needs of younger customers. Like Centric, the group is comprised of employees and local professionals.

Centric’s millennial advisory board held its first meeting in November 2016. Each member has committed to a two-year term and will meet quarterly for one to two hours to discuss what millennials want and need from financial institutions and employers, and to outline strategies to attract and retain millennial customers and employees. Eight members are bank staff—all millennials—and eight, including Whitesel, come from HYP. Different industries and skill sets are represented.

Two co-chairs—Nicole Cooper, a teller manager from Centric, and Trevin Shirey, an HYP member and business development manager at an internet marketing company—are responsible for organizing the meetings and setting the advisory board’s agenda. Millennials on the advisory board are uncompensated but will have direct access to Centric’s board of directors, with the co-chairs presenting quarterly updates to the board and leadership team that outline key initiatives and progress toward goals.

The partnership doesn’t just benefit Centric. “There [are] a lot of movers and shakers [on Centric’s board] that are highly involved in the Harrisburg community, so being able to connect those eight young professionals to those people directly is ultimately a great opportunity for them to network in the community and get to advance their professional careers,” says Whitesel. Husic adds that membership on the board should be a “great resume builder.”

The first task to be completed by the group has advisory board member Cody Wanner—the co-founder of video production company CAP Collective—documenting the bank’s online account opening process. The group will review the footage and offer its input. “We’re all going to sit together and watch,” says Husic. “If we don’t hear the unfiltered feedback, how do we make ourselves a better bank?” Next, the group plans to focus on the bank’s mobile app, again recording the experience. Centric also plans to bring in companies identified as leaders in mobile app development for demonstrations.

Husic plans to measure the success of the millennial advisory board’s recommendations, and the bank’s implementation of them. Is Centric moving the needle when it comes to acquiring millennial accounts? Are more young job seekers interested in working at the bank? Currently, 15 percent of Centric’s employees are millennials. Husic wants to get closer to 30 percent, and for Centric to gain a reputation as an “employer of choice” for younger workers.

Attracting millennial employees is important to the long-term sustainability of the bank, Husic says, and she’s open to the advisory board’s input—even if it takes her a little out of her own personal comfort zone. “They said, ‘did you ever think about getting a dodgeball team together?’” says Husic, who is open to the idea but reticent to play herself. “I’ll bring the snacks,” she says.

emccormick

Emily McCormick is the Director of Research for Bank Director, an information resource for directors and officers of financial companies.You can follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/ehmccormick or get connected on LinkedIn.