Practice Management

Insights from the Invisible Generation

By Tom Foster

Poor Generation X, those folks born between the early-to-mid 1960s and the late 1970s-to-early 1980s. They receive so little attention from either the news media or marketers, it seems like they’re invisible.

Gen X can sometimes feel like the forgotten generation, the Pew Research Center concluded after a study on differences between generations.1 The study found that Gen Xers were less likely than millennials or baby boomers to believe their generation is unique, and were often overlooked in stories about demographic, social and political change.

But financial advisors who support retirement plans and employers that sponsor plans may be able to learn some insights from Gen Xers about how to connect to their wider employee populations.

The MassMutual Retirement Savers Study1, for instance, found that Gen Xers, now aged 34-49, combined elements from the other two generations when it came to investment preferences, where to obtain financial guidance, and how they perceived movements in the equity markets. Overall, Gen Xers tended to occupy the middle ground.

When asked if the recent stock market activity prompted them to make changes to their 401(k) or other retirement investments, 59 percent of Gen Xers said they were sticking with their current strategy. That compared to 23 percent of millennials and 82 percent of boomers.

Eleven percent of Gen Xers said recent market movements were prompting them to seek more exposure to equities.  Conversely, 32 percent of millennials and only 3 percent of boomers said the same.

More importantly, Gen Xers were wedged between millennials and boomers when it came to getting guidance from a financial professional: 8 percent of millennials, 29 percent of Gen Xers and 62 percent of boomers sought out financial advisors. Of those who relied upon on an employer’s retirement education programs: 17 percent were millennials, 10 percent Gen Xers and 3 percent boomers.

Other than a striking pattern of being stuck in the middle, what do Gen Xers have to tell us about connecting to employees about retirement savings?

First, different generations, not to mention different people within generations, have different preferences for receiving information, getting advice or guidance, interacting with others and even investing.  This could mean that advisors and plan sponsors need to take a broad approach to communicating and connecting with employees, providing a variety of resources, tools and educational approaches, and offering a robust menu of investment choices and approaches.

While millennials tend to favor more online and technology-based resources, and boomers prefer more human interaction, Gen Xers rely on a variety of mediums.  The approach may be perfect for a workplace with a diverse employee population.

Drilling further into Gen X, survey respondents favored a wide range of different investment strategies to prepare for retirement. While a mix of actively and passively managed mutual funds ranked No. 1, Gen Xers split on choices such as target date funds, managed accounts, and strictly active or strictly passive investment funds. In some instances – such as the preference for a combination of active and passive investments – Gen Xers were once again in between millennials and boomers.

That means Gen Xers can serve as a bellwether for employers as to what resources and tools to offer for retirement planning or even benefits choices through the workplace. Because the generation appears so diverse in thought and deed, catering to Gen Xers needs and preferences may help satisfy other generations too.

Instead of feeling invisible, Gen Xers should take pride in the fact that they may be seen as trendsetters at the workplace. Putting their views and needs front and center can be a great starting point for better retirement readiness solutions for everybody.

 

E. Thomas Foster Jr. is head of strategic relationships for retirement plans for Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co. (MassMutual).

 

1Generation X: America’s neglected ‘middle child’, Pew Research, http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/06/05/generation-x-americas-neglected-middle-child/

2The MassMutual Retirement Savers Study, https://www.massmutual.com/about-us/news-and-press-releases/press-releases/2017/05/05/17/14/massmutual-retirement-savers-survey-april-2017

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