A shift to values-based banking
Labels can be misleading, none more so than those that try to reduce entire generations to a handful of shared characteristics. However, as technology has come to dominate our lives, its cycles also frame some of the key behaviours of particular cohorts.
Generation X (born between 1965-1980) encountered the personal computer, internet and mobile phones for the first time as young, and not so young, adults. Millennials (born between 1980–1995) grew up in a world of advancing but not overwhelming digitalization; they truly straddle the analogue and digital eras but can still remember when mobile phones were the size and weight of a house brick.
And then there is Generation Z (born between 1995-2010). These are the first, true, digital natives, born into a world of powerful mobile devices and omnipresent wi-fi, a world in which media, retail, music and content have migrated to cyberspace and are part of the fabric of everyday – anytime – existence.
It stands to reason then that this generation will shop differently. On a trivial level, they will use their mobile devices to access products and services whenever they want; they will use those devices, and probably only those devices, to pay for purchases made in both the virtual and physical worlds; and they will see them as their single interface for personal and business interaction. Even the most physical businesses (think pizzas) will have to sell, take payment and provide support through these devices and not through physical infrastructure.
However, to focus exclusively on technology is to miss perhaps the most significant characteristic of Gen Zers. This is a cohort born into a world of climate change, political upheaval and social disruption, and this experience affects far more than just where and how they buy things; it affects their values – who they buy from and why. As one researcher puts it: “They are looking beyond tangible products and actually trying to understand what is it that makes the company tick. What is its mission? What is its purpose? And what is it actually trying to build for us as a society?”
Nowhere are the effects of this combination of characteristics more influential than in financial services, where the complexity of Generation Z affects everything from the branch network to the design of investment products.
For example, a recent study showed that “ 12% of Gen Z will use an app for research and 12% go in branch… [they are] least likely to use conventional websites for research (44%), far outstripped by the 72% of Baby Boomers [born between 1946-1964] who use websites, and 60% of Millennials. This is because Gen Z is less likely to use a desktop or laptop computer than other groups, preferring instead to use their smart mobile phone or tablet for any task required … Most (63%) would feel comfortable managing their finances using a virtual assistant for tasks like managing their current account, setting up a new insurance policy, carrying out administration on their loan or mortgage and handling their savings account.”
Statistics like this are behind banks’ efforts to reimagine their relationship and distribution models to reflect the values and behaviour of their new customers.
Take Spain’s largest bank, CaixaBank. As a whole, CaixaBank has been at the forefront of building online, mobile and digital channels to allow customers to interact with it in the way that best suits them. With a 29.2% market share of digital clients overall in Spain, the bank has around 7 million digital customers, of which 30% are exclusively digital. It has pioneered the use of AI-driven chatbots, robo-advisory services, biometrics and other advanced technologies.
It has also restructured its physical distribution network so that customers can use a combination of remote and physical interactions tailored to their precise requirements. This includes the roll-out of innovative new models for branches which combine traditional branch staff with cutting-edge technology, unique content and non-financial interactivity.
A dedicated platform
More specifically, CaixaBank has created imagin, a mobile app-based ecosystem delivering a lifestyle-oriented user community, far beyond the boundaries of a purely transactional financial app. Its goal is to promote the growth and loyalty of the youngest customers, who are especially interested in using new technologies in their day-to-day lives and their future projects.
The influence of Generation Z is clear: imagin's product offering includes financial and non-financial services that may vary according to the customer’s age and loyalty model; its relationship model requires a simple download of the application and sign-up using email addresses to get on board (not a bank account); and the range of mobile apps target specific age groups, accompanying customers from childhood into young adulthood – imaginKids (from 0 to 11 years of age, focused on financial education), imaginTeens (for adolescents between 12 and 17 years of age), and imagin (starting from 18 years of age).
The focus on education, rather than selling, is another hint of the Gen Z approach. The bank believes that, by helping young people to grow up with the skills and knowledge of how to manage their savings and expenses by the time they are adults, it helps to promote broader financial inclusion and stability.
imagin also contains a wealth of digital content organized around four core fields: music (imaginMusic), video games (imaginGames), trends (imaginCafé), and technology (imaginShop), and incorporates gamification, quizzes and other special tools directly through the different apps.
The value of values
Again, much of this content is based on values and concepts drawn from outside conventional banking. For instance, imagin has launched a sustainability plan to reduce environmental impact and encourage third parties to do the same.
Through imaginPlanet, a themed area for content and services within the imagin app, the platform aims to bring together useful content on sustainability and provide information about projects and initiatives that will benefit both the planet and society. This includes real projects with real outcomes: as part of its efforts, imagin proposes to reforest a mountain in Cantabria, after a fire plagued the region in 2016.
And for new imagin customers, sustainable actions like donations to charitable causes or reforestation will replace conventional gifts.
This emphasis on values will be harder for some banks than others. CaixaBank’s long history of social responsibility and charitable activity, its substantial financial commitments to vulnerable and underbanked communities, its investment in ESG, and its long-standing adoption of UN sustainability goals across the business (and its range of ESG investment products) have provided a strong platform on which to build.
There is one more benefit for those who engage with Generation Z’s attitudes and requirements now: this cohort is one of society’s most powerful influencers. Through their interaction with parents and grandparents, teachers and co-workers, they are spreading the values that they hold dear and those values are being adopted by other groups. It seems likely that banks able to appeal to Gen Z will find themselves well placed to benefit from changing attitudes in their older customers too.