Banking on Millennials: Navigating the needs of a new generation

The expectation of constant accessibility is changing the dynamics of all industries, including financial institutions

David Devine

Before the rise of smartphones and tablets, a trip to the bank was a weekly event.

In fact, for business owners and consumers alike, a visit to the bank was a regular errand to withdraw funds, deposit a check, review a balance or pay a bill. A live banker would greet you, help or advise you on specific needs, and send you on your way.

Fast forward to 2014 when, according to a survey by, one in five Americans hasn’t visited a bank branch in the past year. Funds can be withdrawn from ATMs; checks are deposited by a photo taken on a smartphone; account balances can be reviewed and transferred through a mobile app. All of these things are done without stepping foot inside a branch.

Facts such as these, coupled with the ongoing changes in technology, have led the banking industry to adapt services to meet the needs of this new, digital-savvy generation, known as Millennials.

And financial institutions are not alone. This expectation of constant accessibility is changing the dynamics of all industries. New technologies such as Apple Pay and Square also affect the retail industry, as companies adapt their business processes. Cyber Monday is the new Black Friday, and as time goes on technology will only continue to push traditional practices.

While business owners feel pressured to follow suit, there can be a happy medium.

Yes, many younger customers and clientele want access to technology, but each customer wants something different. As a community bank with an emphasis on relationship banking, Columbia Bank has taken a creative approach to this trend. We recognize that not one of our customers is the same, so when we adapt to changing needs (by offering a mobile app, online banking tools, etc.) we do so while maintaining a customer focus.

Authentic face time is still valuable to many of our clients. Our branches are still visited on a daily basis and the same friendly faces meet clients with sage advice. Many of our customers wouldn’t have it any other way.

As a business owner, it’s imperative to offer personalized service and attention to customers in whatever medium is preferable – whether it’s a face-to-face coffee meeting or a short and sweet call. But remember the happy medium? In some cases, traditional services might not adapt so well with technology.

In banking, every customer sits within a different phase of his or her wealth cycle that requires a certain amount of attention. Even if millennials aren’t there yet, they will be someday, and ultimately, a computer cannot replace expertise. We’re finding there’s still great value in face-to-face communication. Your smartphone might identify you by a swipe of your thumb, but we don’t underestimate the value of knowing a client on a first name basis – and in some cases, your kids and dog as well – and providing localized decision making.

As time goes on, millennial trends and technological advances will continue to challenge businesses of all shapes and sizes. Adaptation is a skill that business owners must master, especially in the modern age. The most important thing you can do is proceed with caution and keep the focus on your customers. Navigate these trends with a smart eye and find the happy medium to ensure your business can remain true to itself and its values, no matter what technology presents.

David Devine is senior vice president for Columbia Bank.