My late grandfather, who was born in 1910, loved to reminisce about the good old days.
“When I was your age,” he would say, “I used to walk to school with all of my brothers. Didn’t matter what the weather was. While we were trudging along, in sometimes freezing conditions, we always had a good time horsing around.”
We clearly got the point: The good old days seemed so much better.
We all knew they were much harder, too.
Today, people don’t walk anywhere. In fact, those fortunate enough to work in Silicon Valley ride in air-conditioned buses, with Wifi and lattes available for all. No three-mile walk in the snow for them.
TV journalist Tom Brokaw defined my grandfather’s cohorts as The Greatest Generation.
Their greatness was the result of their worth ethic, their thrift and humility, and the incredible bond they formed in their personal relationships. This generation survived the Great Depression and World War II; very few complained.
The next generation, the Baby Boomers, did like many others before them: They set out to define themselves differently than their parents.
That meant not being satisfied with the frugality of my grandfather’s generation. Tight purse strings drove Baby Boomers crazy. As a result, they were motivated to make money and then enjoy spending it.
As post-War prosperity flourished, Baby Boomers sought out professionals to manage their newly created wealth. They chose reputable financial institutions to advise them on how to invest in the financial markets.
My Way Wasn’t Better
Today, we know the Baby Boomers didn’t get the wealth management equation right.
As it turns out, their preference for brand name firms with big advertising budgets didn’t serve them well. The financial crisis is just the most recent example of a model that serves institutions better than clients.
The good news is that many Baby Boomers learned from the experience and they are not as brand-dependent as they once were. They are either managing money on their own with the help of the Internet. Or, they are working with an independent wealth manager.
The Millennials: We Can Do Even Better
The current generation, Millennials, looked at their parents and said we, too, can do things better.
This generation has defined itself by fully integrating technology into their lives in the name of speed and efficiency. With social media and email, it’s easier and faster than ever to communicate and to base your self-worth on Facebook friends and Twitter followers.
That’s good, up to a point. What’s not so good is that real face-to-face or even voice-to-voice interaction has gone missing.
As actor Kevin Bacon said in this video, technology is robbing Millennials of at least one character-building experience that would make the Greatest Generation proud – the agony and ecstasy of dating.
As recently as the 1980s, you actually had to talk to the opposite sex if you wanted to ask them out. No texting or email. You had to find courage, talk to the parents who answered the phone, and ask the question while your heart was racing.
In their quest for efficiency, Millennials rarely go old-school when it comes to forming relationships.
We Need To Keep It Real
Today, wealth management is a lot like dating. It’s about relationships and trust.
True, technology can enhance those relationships, but it cannot solve the biggest challenge: Finding out what makes a person tick. What are the real dreams and fears of individuals who are entrusting you with their life’s savings? Why is money important to them?
No questionnaire is going to elicit that information. Questionnaires can’t ask follow-up questions based on what someone just said. Likewise, trust isn’t built in 140-character bursts. Rather, it happens when people talk and experience the challenges that present themselves in our daily lives.
Technology can free up time to spend with each other. That may be one of the most important benefits of technology. Unfortunately, the Wealth Consigliere believes the lack of face-time is a huge failing of the Millennial generation and a weakness of technology-based wealth management firms.
As always in life, the pendulum can swing too far. The Greatest Generation took hardship as a badge of honor, but their lives were not necessarily fun-filled. And, they missed out on the joy of spending time with their family.
Wouldn’t it be nice if the next generation could meet us somewhere in the middle?