Back to School and Learning from Kids These Days

Remember the excitement of back to school? Oh sure, there were the moments of dread when you knew you were losing your freedom again. But you also remember the sense that finally you would catch up with your friends, right? Today, it is different.

While kids are putting together their boxes of freshly sharpened #2 pencils (yes, that’s still the right number), they have a different perspective than even 10 years ago. Why?

Connecting with relationships does not require an institution.

Let’s consider how that might work with today’s culture and in the famous words of Troy Bolton from High School Musical, "Dad, did you ever think about trying something new, but were afraid of what your friends might think?"

Kids are used to making ad-hoc plans and can conduct a meetup at random locations. This has implications for those who think that a stable branch location is the answer.

You don’t have to meet at the bike racks. Even for true bullying to take place, it can be done online. Kids are constantly training themselves to build community without being at school. In the same way, consumers can have a relationship with their financial institution without frequent branch visits. Kids are used to making ad-hoc plans and can conduct a meetup at random locations. This has implications for those who think that a stable branch location is the answer.

Go ahead and take my phone away. To reference Gabriella in High School Musical, "You’re a cool guy, Troy. But not for the reasons your friends think." I think many millennials would tell financial institutions the same thing. They are not impressed with your asset size, your number of locations or even many of the services you offer. They want their experience to be great and they want you to know them personally.

Relationships are directly affected by the speed at which communication can occur. Technology simply supports this desire to connect more frequently. I was amused recently as my niece’s smartphone was taken away from her, while her tablet was not. Of course she could message just as quickly from an iPad mini through various apps. Even with restrictions, she is able to navigate accessibility issues in a way that institutions often cannot. If you are looking at how to communicate during downtime, ask a middle schooler what to do when their phone is taken away.

Millennials can process far more content than older generations. Don’t ask them to read a book, but if you want to see how many people you can communicate with at one time and still maintain sanity, you will be amazed to shadow one of your millennial employees. Studies show that the median number of text messages for teens 13-17 is over 60 messages per day. You don’t have to train them on reviewing large numbers of casual messages (but you may have to proofread them).

As your neighborhood moves toward back to school, be reminded that things have changed. Relationships even for middle schoolers are not nearly as defined by how far they can ride a bike, but how much data they can move on a smartphone.

Learning from the younger generation, you will find their ability to be resourceful and build relationships even when they are restricted. If you can adapt as quickly as a middle schooler, your financial institution will thrive when others don’t.

Ben Pankonin is the CEO of Social Assurance, a Fiserv Alliance Partner. He can be reached at

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