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Forget juniorisation in finance: Cocky millennials and baby-boomers need to work together

millennials, millennial generation, baby boomers, boomers, baby boom, financial services, hedge funds, Citrin Cooperman, business

How do millennials fit into your firm's culture?

Take everything you think you know about millennials working in financial services and throw it out the window. Instead, listen to what millennials are actually saying about their goals and preferences and observe how they really behave in a professional setting.

As an example, John, a 27-year-old junior analyst at hedge fund, was frustrated after his annual review.

“The CIO just doesn’t understand me,” John thought. “I can run circles around half the portfolio managers in this company and where does it get me? Maybe this place is not right for me either. I have to be careful, though – too many moves on a resume and I will be labelled a jumper.”

Tony, the firm’s chief investment officer, had just told John that although he is very talented, his people skills leave much to be desired and a promotion to portfolio manager will not happen this year.”

There has been a lot of complaining about the millennial generation, but they are not going away. In fact, as baby boomers are making retirement plans, the millennial generation is entering their years of significant influence in the business world.

Boomers need to understand them as consumers, colleagues and future leaders, because they will have a significant impact on financial services’ firms office environment and company culture.

Generational gaps are nothing new

Thinking back to 1989 when I was 27, the previous generation had negative things to say about us: We were moving from job to job every five years in order to maximize compensation, while our parents, on the other hand, tended to work for one company their entire career with a great sense of loyalty and teamwork. We took out five-year loans to buy fancy cars to prove that we were successful; our parent’s often shared one car. We were anti-government and had the highest divorce rate in history; our parents had strong patriotic views and belief in the traditional family. We emailed colleagues as opposed to getting up and walking over to their desk.

Every generation has significant differences from the previous ones. The impact of technology advances is the most obvious, but not always the most significant difference between millennials and baby boomers.

Tim Galipeau, an associate at Carter Morse & Mathias, a boutique investment bank, believes keeping proficient in the latest technology is a prerequisite for working in the financial services industry, regardless of age. One significant difference he noticed is that millennials, although not necessarily averse to putting in long hours, expect a separation between work and personal time.

“Baby boomers seem to either be more focused on their professional career or their family, but not both,” he says. “We take more of a collective view, and I think have more resources available to us to figure out best practices in order find different ways to accomplish the same task.”

I think Tim is right. Resources and technology allow us to get things done without being in the office, and millennials expect more time for other endeavors, be it family, travel or sports. We baby boomers need to understand this generation and its culture. If not, the professional intergenerational disconnect will continue to be a problem across the financial services industry.

Does Wall Street want to look more like Silicon Valley or Madison Avenue?

So how do we do that? Look at your company’s benefits – does it include flex time, the ability to work from home? Does your company offer best technology? Do you offer international assignments? Can millennials influence policy in your organization? Do the structure, governance policies and culture of your company look more like that of a successful software company in Silicon Valley, or do they more closely resemble an episode of Mad Men?

Millennials want to be challenged, and expect to be treated with respect despite their young age. They expect to learn new knowledge and skills, to work in a friendly environment and be able to make a difference. These factors can be more important than their pay.

Meet millennials halfway and mentor them

Give them what they want – task them with teaching boomers about models, software and web tools that would aid a project; put them in charge of your social media and digital marketing departments.

On the flip side, have boomers mentor them, conveying the power of deep business relationships. Explain when it is right to text or email, and when a face-to-face meeting is needed – and why.

Boomers know, more so than millennials, that keeping up with change in the world of business is a requirement for survival, let alone to prosper. The millennial culture shift is just another change in the business cycle and what it takes for financial services firms to attract and retain the best talent. If those who lived through World War II have learned to keep up with their grandkids via Facebook, then we boomers can figure it out too.

Mark Fagan, managing partner at consulting and accounting firm Citrin Cooperman and the leader of the CEO Evolution series at the University of Connecticut School of Business, which focuses on challenges facing business leaders.

Lead image credit: Stockbyte/Thinkstock. Image of Fagan courtesy of Citrin Cooperman.

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