Published July 26, 2022
NCR sat down for one-on-one interviews with three members of Generation Z to understand their banking habits, how the pandemic has impacted them and if they feel prepared for their financial future.
Meet Leonie from Georgia
Leonie, a 22-year-old college student, is on track to graduate this December with a degree in marketing. During the pandemic, she prioritized finding a solid internship to help her stand out in the competitive job market. Leonie’s primary banking relationship is with a large national bank where she has a checking account and credit card; she also has a savings account with a digital-only bank.
Meet Joe from Wisconsin
Joe, a 17-year-old high school senior, works two part-time jobs at a golf course and as an online shopper for a local grocer. He plans to start applying to colleges soon. The money he earns has given him some newfound financial freedom to spend on hobbies, such as golf, and to start saving. Joe banks with a leading Midwest community bank where he has a checking and savings account.
Meet Andrea from California
Andrea, a 20-year-old community college student, is studying early childhood education and plans to become a kindergarten teacher. She’s currently a nanny and makes extra cash baking for birthdays and other events. She recently started saving half of her paychecks to help prepare for unexpected circumstances. Andrea banks with a large national bank where she has a checking and savings account, a Coogan account and a credit card.
We asked Leonie, Joe and Andrea a series of questions to gauge how they prefer to bank and pay, the features they use most, and the topics they want to learn more about to feel financially secure. We observed many common themes, allowing us to derive meaningful insights and recommendations for financial institutions as they serve this generation of digital natives.
Here’s what we learned:
1. They want mobile everything.
To kick things off, we asked the three Gen Zers how they prefer to bank. Do they prefer to go online, use their mobile app or bank in person at the branch? How do they deposit checks, pay at a store and send money to friends?
Not surprisingly, Leonie, Joe and Andrea all primarily bank from their respective bank’s mobile app. Joe and Andrea never pull up their accounts from a laptop. And they all said they only go to the bank to withdraw or deposit cash. None of them feel the need to go to a branch for anything else.
Related: How Bay Federal Credit Union boosted their mobile app usage 400%
They don’t typically carry cash either. And they all use a debit card to pay at a store and a peer- to-peer (P2P) payment solution to send or receive money. Each of them uses at least two different P2P solutions—a mix of Zelle, Venmo, PayPal and Cash App—depending on which app the person they’re paying or receiving money from has.
Pro tip: Make it easy for them to bank from their phones. When rolling out new features, ensure mobile is a top priority. Being able to also perform administrative tasks through the mobile app, like changing account preferences, will go a long way with this generation.
Related: What do Gen Z consumers want from financial institutions?
2. They want the latest features, and they need to be easy to find.
All three Gen Zers deposit checks from their mobile app. While older generations had to change behaviors, going to the branch to deposit a check is an antiquated and unnecessary concept for this generation.
When asked whether they use a physical debit card or their phone to withdraw cash, Joe and Andrea both paused. When we explained that many banks and credit unions offer a mobile cash withdrawal option, whereby you tap a button on the ATM screen, log in to your mobile app, then scan a QR code to withdraw cash, their minds were blown. When asked whether there were any features their banks don’t have that they’d like to use, Joe said, “That one—mobile cash,” referring to the mobile cash withdrawal solution his bank doesn’t yet offer, but he’s eager to use.
Two of them said if their bank offered cryptocurrency through their mobile app, they’d be more likely to check it out than going through an outside exchange and having to enter their personal and account information.
Pro tip: Gen Z’s banking needs aren’t complicated at this stage of their lives; finding the features they use most shouldn’t be either. Banks and credit unions can benefit from using segmentation capabilities to surface the information and features these consumers use most often, from accessing account balances and transaction details to sending money and depositing checks. And make it easy for them to find new features; if it has a “wow” factor, make sure it’s front and center.
3. They need (and want) to build their financial literacy.
Throughout our conversations, the need for more resources, guidance and education was overwhelmingly apparent. While two of the three interviewees were required to take an economics course in high school, there’s an overall need for more from their banks. They talked about wanting to know more about stocks, cryptocurrency and saving for retirement, yet none of them knew of any resources available to them through their bank.
When asked if she feels financially prepared for the future, Leonie said, “I would say no, not yet. My family never really talked about finances, budgeting and saving. They said to save your money, but nobody said, ‘you should invest too.’ I want more help to learn about that.” She went on to tell us that she’d like to learn more about the homebuying process, to understand things like how much she needs for a down payment and if she should start saving for that now.
Pro tip: Offer free materials and educational resources to help them build financial literacy and wellness. And don’t forget to market those resources to this generation of consumers. Start with the basics like offering a complimentary meeting with a financial advisor, and resources on how to build credit without going into debt, the basics of budgeting or how to prepare to buy a first home.
4. The pandemic has impacted their savings (for the better).
Like so many Americans, the Gen Zers we spoke with all felt the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. But ultimately, it taught each of them that they can never be too prepared financially—and saving is incredibly important.
Right after Andrea purchased a new car, the pandemic hit, and the gym she worked at closed, impacting her income and financial position. When she secured a new job as a nanny, she began socking away half of her paychecks to help her prepare for unexpected circumstances such as these.
Likewise, Leonie emphasized the importance of having money in her savings account in the event of an emergency. She also mentioned that her savings account is not held with her primary bank because they require a minimum balance of $500. But since opening her savings account with a digital-only bank, she prefers to have her savings account separate because it’s “out of sight, out of mind,” which lessens the risk of depleting it.
And Joe, the high school senior, found himself a job. “It [the pandemic] made me get a job. I’m making more and saving more. Previously I didn’t really have money,” he said. He’s putting some of that money he earns into a “parental savings account,” as he calls it, and won’t have access to it until he’s 18 years old—and until he and his mom make that trip to the branch to switch it over to his name. While Joe commented, “It [getting a job] probably made me spend more too because I took up the habit of golf,” he’s also kick- started the habit of saving early and often, which is a big step in the right direction.
Pro tip: Offer ways to help them save but beyond just emergency savings. And bear in mind that requiring minimum balances or imposing fees may prompt them to take their banking elsewhere. They’re willing to open accounts outside their primary financial institution to avoid these things and switching banks isn’t a big deal to get what they want.
It didn’t come as a shock that this generation that’s grown up in the digital age primarily banks from their phones. But it was surprising to hear how unprepared and uneducated they feel on topics like investing, building credit or buying a home, and how unclear they feel about where to go to learn more on these topics. None of them mentioned sitting down with a financial advisor—something many banks and credit unions offer at no cost.
There are a whole host of opportunities to help this generation of consumers become more financially prepared, and in turn, build lasting relationships. Who better to provide that guidance than the banks or credit unions they already know and trust?