Written by Emma Winter, Nick Gori, & Amanda Jasper - NewGround

Who is Gen Z?

Recently, everything that has been in the media is about Millennials: Millennials this and Millennials that. As Millennials become less of a target audience and more of an ally, there is a new mass generation rising in its place—Gen Z.

Gen Z came of age during a unique time of cultural and political change. The consensus on what separates Millennials and Gen Z are the events of 9/11, recalling the events as either a memory or history. Unable to process the significance at the time, Gen Z recalls 9/11 as a piece of history. This expanding consumer group (born after 1996) is the first “digital” generation.

They are unable to remember a time without the internet, when same-sex marriage was not legal, or when the national economy was not struggling. While the oldest members of this generation (23 years old) are starting to graduate from college, they already make up over one-fourth of the U.S. population and are projected to be the largest consumer group by 2020.

Shifting focus from Millennials to Gen Z as the emerging consumer group, brands are concerned with how they will reach Gen Z. Technology has shaped both Gen Z and Millennials, but Gen Z wants to separate themselves from the financial choices of Millennials by making better financial decisions than their predecessors.

Now people might think, isn’t that just like Millennials? Not quite. Millennials are more of a learning-based generation, focused on growing and creating, whereas Gen Z is a group of people who surround themselves with instant gratification, self-proclaimed fame, and trusting relationships. They are observers who value the journey instead of the destination. As a group of self-starters and entrepreneurs, their futures are very important to them.

They seem to have learned from the mistakes of their Millennial predecessors by being conscientious about their future, working hard to make a name for themselves, and securing a better life for their loved ones as well.

What does Gen Z like and what do they want?

Before strategizing on how to get the attention of Gen Z, it is important to identify their needs. First, Gen Z has an average attention span of eight seconds—that leaves very little time to grab their attention. Keep things short and sweet—this is the generation that wants direct and quick access to information and resources in all aspects of life, helping them make sense of finances to help make better decisions. Remember, Gen Z’s attention span is about equal to the memory of a goldfish!

Social activism and human equality build the foundation for Gen Z’s behavior. With the rise of social media, our voices can be shared and heard from anywhere in the world; spreading awareness of ideas and campaigns has never been easier. Within the realm of social media, users can curate their own space and make decisions on what they see. They seek content that feels organic to the platform. With advertising on social media, a realistic representation is preferred—they do not appreciate ads that make life look perfect. Gen Z looks for authenticity and transparency in the brands they support.

While they seek reality in advertising, Gen Z has different expectations for brands than they do for themselves. Because of social media, personal image has become more public than ever. Personal image is paramount over the image of a brand. They want brands to enhance their own image.

When looking at the built environment, Gen Z seeks flexibility, authenticity, choice, convenience, and integration:


How does Gen Z view banking?

Now that Gen Z’s preferences are out in the open, it is important to address their current relationship with banking. For most of Gen Z, the idea of trying to manage money gives them mixed emotions. On one hand, it means freedom—and on the other, it means stress. The Millennial mindset is that they must come to terms with the burden of debt and it is merely a part of their life. However, Gen Z has a fear that debt will be passed down to them and hope that debt could and should be avoided as much as possible.

According to a 2018 NewGround survey, 93% of Gen Z regularly access their checking or savings accounts, 66% have been members of their current financial institution for more than five years, and 59% are members of their bank or credit union due to family ties.

NewGround also found that the top reason why Gen Z would enter a financial institution would be to make a deposit or withdrawal. Approximately 74% would prefer to be contacted by email rather than social media, and 78% use a mobile app their financial institution provides.

Even though the current Gen Z demographic is a young generation, 72% of them already have a checking or savings account. Surprisingly, 32% say that they already owe $20,000 or more in debt, including student, mortgage, and auto loans. Almost 77% of Gen Z already keeps track of their finances, including saving for retirement and attempting to reverse the effects of debt.

There are three sub-categories that have classified the group of individuals in Gen Z.


More than half of the Gen Z population is technology-efficient and would use any technology innovation instead of older traditional methods. A popular banking preference of Gen Z is to use name-branded apps directly connected to their personal banking accounts, such as Apple, Android, Google Pay, or face and finger ID. Some banks even have their own apps for different banking needs. None of the new generations use checks anymore and rarely carry cash.

What is the goal for financial institutions?

Financial institutions trying to capture this emerging consumer base will have to shift their focus from playing the hero role to playing a supporting role. Gen Z wants to take charge of their independence from an early age and expect to be treated accordingly. The message, “we can help you get yourself there,” resonates with Gen Z.

Using social media as a shoppable environment is an emerging market that most of Gen Z would buy from. Marketing with an omnichannel social presence can be an effective way to reach this younger audience. While the message stays the same, the curation needs to be tailored to fit each platform accordingly, such as utilizing Instagram for “image” or Snapchat for “real life.”

How can financial institutions cater to Gen Z needs?

It is crucial to implement innovative ideas to reach Gen Z to meet their banking needs. While technology is huge, there are a few dos and don’ts that financial institutions should consider when grabbing the new generation’s attention.

If smaller institutions want to compete with the megabanks, they must offer the same digital services as well as a personal, friendly experience. The personal experience of a face-to-face interaction needs to be replicated online. Born in a digital age, this generation is accustomed to instant gratification. Fast, on-the-go delivery of products and services alongside immediate help with consumer issues is key to retaining Gen Z consumers.

Here are some key points to keep in mind:

Email is going out: No one under the age of 21 checks their email anymore. Social media is a better way to get involved and get engaged.

Physical mail is in: Gen Z responds better to physical touch and enjoys personalized items sent directly to them.

Respect online space: As mentioned before, their attention span is about eight seconds, and they don’t appreciate it when people waste their time. Forget pop-ups and non-skip ads.

Transparency is key: Brands need to support issues that are at the core of what matters most to Gen Z today. Labels should not be applied to a marketing strategy—it needs to be authentic to the voice of the brand.

Get creative: Checking the top charts of anything from music to social media influencers can help understand what the next trend is and give you a head start to reach Gen Z. Using humor and finding creative ways to interact with them can also draw in their attention

Be interactive: Encourage peer conversation, comments, and create deeper connections, especially through social media. Remember, this is the generation of people who value their peers and take their relationships very seriously.

Design matters: Gen Z is visual, and they like things to look new. Whatever the next hot item is in the market, they will buy it. Find an aesthetic. Make it look pretty, especially when it comes to branch design. Adaptability is necessary, and the constant upgrade of technology is crucial. If you do not adapt to the audience, you will fall behind

Overall, what Gen Z wants today may differ greatly from what they want tomorrow. It will be a challenge to keep up with this new wave of consumers. Brands need to maintain an open dialogue with this generation and ask the right questions to understand the best ways to engage them now and in the future.




 Emma Winter, Gen Zer

Emma interned with NewGround’s Marketing Team and is a sophomore at Maryville University studying graphic design and marketing.


  Amanda Jasper, Millennial

Amanda is the Communications Coordinator at NewGround and graduated from Maryville University in 2014 with a Bachelor of Arts in Strategic Communication.


   Nick Gori, Millennial/Gen Z Cusper

Nick interned with NewGround’s Design Team and is a senior at Washington University in St. Louis graduating with a Master of Architecture.