• Products
  • Insights
  • Practice Management
  • Resources
  • About Us

3 Components of Gentelligence

I was waiting to board a flight when a news headline caught my eye: “Why Millennials Can’t Grow Up.” It was an article in The Atlantic sharing that Millennials were delaying home ownership, marriage, and starting a family far longer than previous generations. From these trends, the article concluded that Millennials couldn’t seem to grow up.

While you might not share that perception, it’s easy to make similar assumptions about people in different generations, knowingly or not. Oftentimes this can get in the way of building meaningful intergenerational relationships.

Many financial professionals want to build relationships with younger generations. No wonder, since 80% or more of clients’ children will leave their parents’ financial professional once they receive their inheritance.1  So how we build those relationships? Fortunately, there’s a way to turn generational differences into opportunities rather than obstacles. I call this approach Gentelligence. I’ll explain how to use Gentelligence to avoid some common pitfalls and recommend additional strategies to build strong connections.

3 Components of Gentelligence


First, Identify Assumptions

We often make assumptions that can hinder a relationship and prevent us from getting to know prospective clients, especially when interacting with someone younger than us. The most common assumptions pertain to our views about things such as marriage, having kids, buying a house, and college or career choices.

  • Avoid: Avoid assuming that what mattered to you at certain ages or life stages still resonates with your potential clients. For example, think back to what mattered to you at different life stages.? E.g., you might have wanted to buy a house and get married by age 25 or 30.

    This may have been a landmark to you but may not even be on the radar screen for some younger Millennials and older Gen Zs. That’s not wrong, it’s just different. Projecting your values and goals at their life stage onto your client can cause clients to think you don’t get understand or respect them.

  • The Gentelligent Approach: Enter initial conversations with your prospective younger clients with genuine curiosity. A simple opening such as “When I meet with a potential client, rather than assume anything, the first thing I like to do is to find out what’s most important to you right now.” This can be the start of an authentic conversation.

    By not assuming they have the same goals as you did, you’re demonstrating a Gentelligent approach to getting to know them as an individual. Research has shown that younger generations put a significantly greater value on being seen as unique and not defined by the conventions of others.



Second, Adjust the Lens

We naturally tend to see the world through our own generational experiences, which can lead us to make inaccurate judgments about others who have grown up during different times and in different ways.

Interacting effectively with those who see and experience the world differently than we do takes more intention, thought, and effort.

  • Avoid: When an attitude or behavior from another generation is different from ours, it’s easy to draw conclusions that may be lacking in context or understanding.

    For example, perhaps your phone calls to a potential younger client have gone unanswered, and your email messages haven’t been returned. From one perspective, that looks disrespectful or, at best, like a sign of disinterest.

    That interpretation might seem reasonable, but the reality is that methods of communications have changed.

  • The Gentelligent Approach: Millennials and Gen Zs are less likely to pick up the phone than older generations and don’t check their email often. When it comes to communicating, they’ve grown up in a time when those who know you will usually text, allowing them to think about the message and respond to it when it is convenient for them.

    Surprisingly, research also shows that Gen Z prefers face-to-face communication to any other kind. That might mean an in-person meeting at the local coffee place near their apartment or a Zoom call. Flexibility and options are key. So, if your emails or calls have gone unanswered, try a quick text or better yet, ask them, “What’s the best way for us to communicate, e.g., text, call, or would you like to meet in-person, etc.?”



Third, Strengthen Trust

Decades ago, consumers didn’t have access to investing information online. They had to rely on financial professionals to make sense of the market. Client trust grew as financial professionals shared this elusive intel.

Now times have changed, and we have instant access to vast financial information online. Plus, robo-advisors and AI tools can now build portfolios, provide behavioral advice, offer automated trading strategies, and much more.

Since younger investors may already feel more informed about investing, financial professionals may find it harder to garner client trust through sharing their investment know-how. Now, younger investors tend to place a higher priority on the financial professional’s ability to connect with them.

  • Avoid: While it comes from a place of good intentions, offering too much financial guidance initially with younger generations can be perceived as condescending.

    Plus, younger generations may view advice from older generations as outdated and irrelevant because their world seems quite different from the world of older generations.

  • The Gentelligent Approach: Instead of starting a meeting by sharing investment expertise, focus first on building a connection. Research shows that younger generations care significantly more than older generations about whether an expert is willing to establish a meaningful connection with them.

    One of my favorite strategies to build a connection is to take a word or phrase that is central to your work and explore what it means to your client. Try starting with a question: When you hear the phrase “financial freedom,” what does that mean to you?

    This kind of question can be a significant first step in building a connection, because it shows an interest and respect for their unique viewpoint, allows for a wide range of responses, and reflects no judgment. As your client responds, it provides an opportunity for you to understand where they are, and also a chance to help them get to where they want to go.



To Summarize

First, identify assumptions you may have about people younger than you. Rather than holding conversations based on those assumptions, be curious and ask questions to find out what’s important to your prospective client. Second, realize that preferred communication methods can vary between generations and individuals. Ask a prospective client how they prefer to be contacted. Third, younger generations prioritize how well you can connect with them over your investment expertise, so find ways to show that you value and respect their unique situation.


The Key to Connecting With Younger Generations: Be Curious

When financial professionals demonstrate curiosity and gain understanding, younger prospects will feel heard and respected, both of which are fundamental to building a relationship. Entering conversations with a genuine interest in understanding generational and individual differences can help you gain their trust and develop strong relationships.


Next Step

The next time you meet with a younger prospective client, try the Gentelligent approach for “Identifying Assumptions.” Try asking this question, “When I meet prospective clients, the first thing I like to find out is what’s most important to you right now.”

About The Author
Tim Owings

Megan is a Professor of Management and Leadership at the Farmer School of Business at Miami University, where she also serves as Director of Leadership Development for the Farmer School and the Robert D. Johnson Co-Director of the Isaac & Oxley Center for Business Leadership. Megan has published widely on generational differences in the workplace. Her work has been featured in Harvard Business Review, NBCNews.com, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The San Francisco Chronicle, MarketWatch, The Houston Chronicle, and Inc. Magazine, among others. 


The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author, who is not affiliated with Hartford Funds.

1 How Advisors Can Keep more of Their Clients' Kids as Clients, WealthManagement.com, 07/2021

Talk to your financial professional about how brain health could affect your finances


The material on this site is for informational and educational purposes only. The material should not be considered tax or legal advice and is not to be relied on as a forecast. The material is also not a recommendation or advice regarding any particular security, strategy or product. Hartford Funds does not represent that any products or strategies discussed are appropriate for any particular investor so investors should seek their own professional advice before investing. Hartford Funds does not serve as a fiduciary. Content is current as of the publication date or date indicated, and may be superseded by subsequent market and economic conditions.

Investing involves risk, including the possible loss of principal. Investors should carefully consider a fund's investment objectives, risks, charges and expenses. This and other important information is contained in the mutual fund, or ETF summary prospectus and/or prospectus, which can be obtained from a financial professional and should be read carefully before investing.

Mutual funds are distributed by Hartford Funds Distributors, LLC (HFD), Member FINRA|SIPC. ETFs are distributed by ALPS Distributors, Inc. (ALPS). Advisory services may be provided by Hartford Funds Management Company, LLC (HFMC) or its wholly owned subsidiary, Lattice Strategies LLC (Lattice). Certain funds are sub-advised by Wellington Management Company LLP and/or Schroder Investment Management North America Inc (SIMNA). Schroder Investment Management North America Ltd. (SIMNA Ltd) serves as a secondary sub-adviser to certain funds. HFMC, Lattice, Wellington Management, SIMNA, and SIMNA Ltd. are all SEC registered investment advisers. Hartford Funds refers to HFD, Lattice, and HFMC, which are not affiliated with any sub-adviser or ALPS. The funds and other products referred to on this Site may be offered and sold only to persons in the United States and its territories.

© Copyright 2024 Hartford Funds Management Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Not FDIC Insured | No Bank Guarantee | May Lose Value