What is a Financial Challenge in 2015?

If you walked a mile in your prospective members’ shoes, what would you experience today? Chances are, the experience would be markedly different from your own – particularly if you aspire to attract more Millennial members. That’s not only true when you compare the existence of a typical established financial services executive with a young up-and-comer or recent grad. It’s also true when you compare your younger self to today’s young adults. Reality today has shifted, and with it the financial challenges facing a new generation. Consider a few of the current issues facing Millennials today, then consider how you’re addressing these challenges in real, deliberate ways through the products and services you offer: Middle Class Lifestyle Feels Like  Distant Dream According to the MacArthur Foundation’s third national How Housing Matters Survey, 69 percent of Millennials think it’s harder to achieve a middle-class lifestyle today than it was in previous generations. Their challenges:
  • 76 percent say it’s harder to save for retirement.
  • 77 percent say it’s harder to own a home.
  • 65 percent say it’s more difficult to obtain stable, affordable housing.
Yet, 88 percent of Millennials want to own their own homes. And the same number are optimistic about what the future holds in the next five years. How will they get from optimism to homeownership? Simply offering up great mortgage products may not be adequate to help young adults make the leap. THINK Prize 15 winner Nicole Lopez-Conti’s Re.Look – a program that would provide credit union members who are denied mortgages a specific path to approval – offers the kind of alternative that might bridge the gap. Here, it’s not just products and services, but real understanding and empathy, that can make a difference. Medical Debit Is Real – and It’s Crippling Millennials are similarly optimistic about facing the financial challenges around health crises. Citing data from the 2015 Aflac WorkForces report, which surveyed 1,977 employers and 5,337 employees, Mashable.com notes that only 17 percent of Millennials surveyed worry about a serious illness. More than half of Millennials surveyed had less than $1,000 saved for unexpected medical expenses – and 28 percent had less than $500. Although we like to equate being young with being healthy – even invincible – the reality is that young people do incur medical expenses, and sometimes those expenses are considerable. High-deductible health plans make it easier to rack up a healthy dose of debt, even when a relatively small crisis arises. Add to that the competing financial priorities that many young people juggle -- paying off student loans, saving for a house, contributing to retirement, managing credit card debt – and it’s easy to see how preparing adequately for a medical emergency gets the short shrift. At the same time, a true medical crisis isn’t a discretionary event. Managing costs is not the only priority, and may seem unimportant compared to one’s life and health. Understanding these challenges is critical for financial institutions that wish to provide more than superficial service. The National Credit Union Foundation has created a detailed toolkit to help credit unions help their members navigate difficult waters: “Medical debt is the number one leading cause of personal debt in the United States, and if not dealt with it can snowball and cause much bigger problems in people’s lives,” says Mark Lynch, senior program manager at NCUF. “Our Medical Debt Toolkit provides a free resource for credit unions to leverage and help aid their members who may be struggling with the financial burden of medical debt.” The toolkit unpacks multiple issues related to medical debt, including the resolution of billing errors, impact on credit, understanding insurance and more – so that credit unions can begin to roll up their sleeves and provide real help where it’s needed. Wage Reduction and Fear of Job Loss are Damaging Confidence The generation that came of age during the Great Recession may finally be integrating into the workforce. But the experience of trying to enter the job market during a massive downturn still resonates. A recent Gallup poll shows that one in five Americans is worried about wage reduction. As the stable, full-time, career-spanning job becomes more and more elusive for young workers, it’s clear that change is the new normal. For example, about 45 percent of jobs will be displaced by technology over the next 20 years, according to a 2013 study from the Oxford Martin School’s Programme on the Impacts of Future Technology. How will future workers cope with the change that accompanies this shift? Will automation replace your job? If you happen to be a loan officer, the likelihood is 98.4%, according to this interactive quiz from NPR. Can we all move forward with confidence? In a rapidly changing world, it isn’t easy. What spells the difference between ease and anxiety? The resources and flexibility to get further education? A substantial nest egg to help weather a gap in employment? Helping people comprehend and respond to the new challenges they face financially can mean taking on a whole new world of facts and figures – or creating entirely new solutions to evolving problems. But demonstrating the insight and empathy needed to know your members’ struggles and provide the alternatives they actually need is the very definition of being relevant.