New banks

‘These C-suites are devoid of tech-savvy people’: What banks and other traditional FIs can do to keep up with Gen Z

  • Formulating a Single Layer of Truth with the help of data is necessary, if traditional FIs want to engage Gen Z.
  • Tearsheet and Publicis Sapient are collaborating on a Gen Z focused product called Steez.

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‘These C-suites are devoid of tech-savvy people’: What banks and other traditional FIs can do to keep up with Gen Z

According to research done in 2019 by Morgan Stanley, Gen Z is set to become the largest generation in America by 2034, with a population of 78 million. Unlike their predecessors, Gen Z have grown up with modern technology, which has not only contributed to greater trust in digital services, but has also enhanced their ability to keep up with rapidly changing technology – something that previous generations continue to struggle with. At Tearsheet’s inaugural Bankchain Conference, David Donovan, Publicis Sapient’s Executive Vice President for Financial Services in the Americas, spoke with Tearsheet’s Editor-in-Chief, Zack Miller, about the influence Gen Z has on banking today.

The Key Differences

Apart from being tech-savvy, Gen Z is also a lot more concerned with making ethical investments than previous generations. According to Donovan, “They are really wedded to that; they don’t just say it as a tagline”. This analysis is supported by research which suggests that 90% of the Gen Z demographic believes companies must responsibly address environmental and social issues.

Donovan adds that “this is still a young demographic, so it’s not going to be looking for a heavy white-glove treatment from a financial advisor, but they’re certainly very interested in finance.” Recent examples of memestock, NFTs, and banking in the metaverse illustrate how willing and powerful this demographic can be when it is appropriately engaged. They also show that in a choice between the familiarity of having a human financial advisor or investing instantaneously, Gen Z heavily skews towards the latter.

One reason behind this is that automation and digitization lower the cost of offering financial services, making products cheaper and hence more accessible to young aspiring investors. The other reason why experiences like that of Acorns have been successful is because they’ve managed to engage their audience with the right content and digital experience.

From Acorns to Oak Trees

“For me, one of the things that I always wanted to figure out was a more seamless way to deal with change – not spare change in my pocket, but looking at a bank statement, and seeing change. So this idea of every time you did a transaction, rounding that change up and putting it into an investment account, was just incredible for me,” said Donovan, and he isn’t alone. Acorns currently services more than 5 million subscribers and has helped customers save and invest over $12.5 billion to date. According to Donovan, these successes are emblematic of a deep understanding of the Gen Z demographic, which can only be built upon sound and ample data.

One Layer Of Truth

Donovan shared that one of the key reasons why FIs like legacy banks struggle to keep up with fintech products is their inability to communicate through the right platform with the right mix of content. This is because determining what is right for your customers requires robust data analytics, architecture, and strategy, which is not only hard to implement but also hard to understand. “When I look at those C-suites, they’re very much devoid of what I would call tech-savvy people,” he said. One way to move forward is to enable people with technical expertise to rise to high-level decision-making positions.

“Many of the legacy banks and asset managers are not cloud-native. They’re still very early in that journey to create a single layer of data or that single layer of truth, with one taxonomy.” Donovan stresses that while that sounds simple, it has historically been quite challenging for traditional FIs to formulate their “One Layer of Truth”. Doing so, in his opinion, will allow these institutions to “understand clients on a more personal level”. Moreover, they need to know what it is that drives those clients, and what it is that their brand is going to be able to create to retain those clients. For its own clients, Publicis Sapient first works to make sure that they have the right architecture in place to leverage the power of data, and second, it prioritizes working with its clients to help them personalize their products.


Short for Style and Ease, Steez is a joint project by Tearsheet and Publicis Sapient which will investigate “what it means to do business with the next generation” for traditional FIs with research and case studies. Together, Tearsheet and Publicis Sapient will launch a joint report, as well as a Gen Z Readiness Index and podcasts which will help FIs decode what doing business with demographics that can “move markets” really entails. 

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