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An Ominous Future Awaits The Big Banks

By Amanda Alix - Mar 15, 2014 at 2:00PM

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Among the young, the biggest U.S. banks are not only hated, but are considered almost irrelevant


Source: Flickr / State Farm.

The Millennial generation is the largest in U.S. history, making up approximately one-third of the current population. That presence dwarfs the seemingly ubiquitous baby boomers, a contingent that encompasses only about 25% of the country's inhabitants.

It's no wonder that businesses are constantly trying to figure out what these young people, aged 18 to 34 years, really want. Recently, Scratch – a specialized team inside Viacom – released the results of a three-year study concerning Millennials and how their attitudes will affect various industries. The Millennial Disruption Index held bad news for banking, which was judged to be the most at risk in the near future from the poor impression the sector has made upon the youngest of consumers.

Dislike, to the point of irrelevance
Compared to categories such as household goods and discount retail, banking was given the highest score, meaning that the sector is at great risk of being disrupted significantly because of its lack of importance to Millennials. Of the 10 least-liked brands, four belonged to the biggest U.S. banks: JPMorgan Chase & Co. ( JPM 1.35% ), Bank of America Corp. ( BAC 0.71% ), Citigroup ( C -0.33% ), and Wells Fargo & Co. ( WFC 1.82% ).

What is worse is that these young consumers have no brand loyalty – one-third of respondents said they would consider switching banks in the next 90 days – and discern no differences between their own and other banks. Fully 73% are looking forward to new financial offerings from the likes of Google and Apple, rather than from the big bank they currently do business with.

A wake-up call for banks
This is a harsh predictor of the future of banking, certainly. What, if anything, can banks do to court this financially fickle crowd?

Another study sheds some light on this issue. The Financial Brand notes a survey showing that 45% of Millennials currently using a bank also use non-bank products as well, such as prepaid debit cards and payday loans. Their biggest concern? Fees. Millennials want predictability; they want fees to be easily understandable. They don't want surprises – and they definitely don't want overdraft fees.

Big banks are beginning to respond. Bank of America, after months of research, is now offering a new product called Safe Balance, a checking account with a flat monthly fee of $4.95, no overdraft charges, and no paper checks. JPMorgan offers a prepaid debit card called Liquid, which also costs $4.95 per month, but doesn't charge a fee to open the account, or reload the card. Wells Fargo seems to have no current offerings, having discontinued its own prepaid card as of February 4 of this year.

Indeed, there seems to be a dearth of financial products that appeal to Millennials, particularly among the big banks. This is unfortunate, since those financial giants have the wherewithal to develop the very products that these consumers want – and will lose out on possible long-term relationships when young consumers migrate away when their needs are not met. Millennials have spoken, and banks need to listen, or suffer the consequences.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis – even one of our own – helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.

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Stocks Mentioned

Citigroup Inc. Stock Quote
Citigroup Inc.
C
$63.49 (-0.33%) $0.21
Bank of America Corporation Stock Quote
Bank of America Corporation
BAC
$44.78 (0.71%) $0.32
JPMorgan Chase & Co. Stock Quote
JPMorgan Chase & Co.
JPM
$160.97 (1.35%) $2.14
Wells Fargo & Company Stock Quote
Wells Fargo & Company
WFC
$48.65 (1.82%) $0.87

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

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