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"Gen Z Whisperer" Tells Wealth Managers What Her Generation Wants

Joe Reilly, 9 October 2020


This publication landed an interview with a 23-year-old influencer, Tiffany Zhong, who has published a recent report about what Generation Z (people born from 1997 to 2012) wants. This is a population cohort at ease with online communication, concerned about values in investing, and tough on costs.    

An earlier version of this interview was published on Family Wealth Report, sister news service to this one. The content in this article is global in scope, so we hope readers in Asia, the Middle East and Europe will enjoy this interview with a real force from the younger generation. The article was written by US-based family office consultant and regular commentator Joe Reilly. He talks to Tiffany Zhong, 23, the “Gen Z Whisperer” and author of the recent 2020 Gen Z Trends Report published by her firm Zebra IQ

Joe Reilly:  Wealth managers understand Boomers and Gen X pretty well, and are currently preoccupied with understanding Millennials, so I thought we might look way out at what is coming in Gen Z (people born from 1997 to 2012).  I thought it would be good to ask you about Gen Z attitudes as well as about social media, since the two are so intertwined. How do you see the difference between Gen Z and Millennials?  
Zhong:  Millennials were internet first and Gen Z is mobile first. Millennials grew up with the internet and computers, but Gen Z grew up on their smartphones. We are used to having information in our hands 24-7. Everything is accessible to us and we optimize for convenience.

The 2008 crisis has had an effect on how Millennials view money and markets.  Do you remember the Great Financial Crisis?  Do you think it has had an effect on your generation?
Tiffany Zhong:
 Honestly, I don’t really remember much about it at all, I was very young.  My parents also shielded us from things. 

We can see, however, that Robinhood [Markets] is very popular with Gen Z, and that is often for fun as well as to make money.  

I can also tell you that a lot of these Gen Z online influencers who suddenly come into money are all over the place financially. They look at the markets, real estate, and startups, but they are often like athletes and celebrities who don’t invest wisely. They need to think about the future and the fact that this can all go away.

There is an impression that Gen Z is careful about how they spend their money. True?
I would say that values and politics are important when Gen Z is looking at brands they want to purchase from, but it is primarily cost and efficiency. Is it going to come fast? Is it cheap or affordable? They are very cost driven. You can see this in things like fast fashion brands, which do extremely well. Brands like Shein or Boohoo they love because they look great and are super cheap.  

Gen Z also always wants unique experiences, but, of course, they just end up doing what all their friends are doing! Gen Z tends to form into groups, or “cores” online. Places like Reddit, Discord, Twitter and Instagram are full of people following each other. You find people who are into the same aesthetics as you and follow them. These places are like a constant mood board. You find people who like the same images, the same articles and the same content. There are sub-cores for everything. You express yourself, but you are also part of a group. And that group drives the things you buy.

Does Gen Z think college is still a good deal?
Tiffany Zhong:
Not so sure - especially this year. Many people who go to college do it because their siblings and parents before them went. So if you are assessing the ROI [risk of investment] of college you consider what you are going to learn vs just going because everyone does. Nowadays you can have a degree but not be able to get a job, and you can often make money now without a degree. Most people think they have to go, and it is not until years later that they are swimming in pools of debt and thinking maybe it wasn’t worth it after all. I personally think most people go through life without ever learning how to think for themselves.

Gen Z is very entrepreneurial, mainly because they can see all the successful entrepreneurs who came before us. They are the side hustle generation.

They know you don’t necessarily have to go out and get a 9 to 5 to survive. I have friends in high school who are in the middle of nowhere and they are making money online. Some are even supporting their family. There are so many resources online, there is so much inspiration online for anyone who wants to start making money. This is the real game changer. You can possibly make money whenever you want, and wherever you want, and that is bound to change the workplace in the next five to ten years.  

Do you see Gen Z doing things differently around dating and marriage?
Tiffany Zhong:
Dating is interesting. People are online dating. We are used to the internet, so we are used to meeting online and people date online. So you can have Gen Z’ers who have full-on relationships without ever having met in real life. They are just comfortable with hanging out online. Gen Z also tends to party less and hook-ups are down versus Millennials. It is probably too early to see how marriage will shake out, but of course they talk about it and settling down at some point. Having a house and career is not the only way to flex to your friends in this generation. The new flex is freedom. Work wherever I want, do whatever I want with my life.

There has been a lot of criticism of the internet and mobile generations. Many believe screens promote antisocial behavior, prolong childhood and increase loneliness, depression and political disengagement. 
Zhong: Well, they are wrong about political engagement. It is very high. Brands have to get political, and they have to care about their values to attract Gen Z.  

Depression and loneliness are certainly high. Social media has its pros and cons, and the pros are that you are able to see what your friends are doing. You are able to reach your friends whenever you want, which is great if you are feeling lonely, but of course you can also see that your friends are having fun and hanging out with their other friends and not you. Parties are a big part of social media, and so the problem of FOMO [fear of missing out] is real. If you are judging your self value based on how many likes you have or followers you have then you will have problems. This is a terrible way to value yourself. That is what Instagram has created. It is all just dopamine hits.  

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