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A Conversation With Jason Dorsey

A Conversation With Jason Dorsey

Generational Researcher, Speaker, and President of The Center for Generational Kinetics

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Jason Dorsey
Generational Researcher, Best-Selling Author of Zconomy, and President of The Center for Generational Kinetics

MarketFacts recently spoke with Jason Dorsey, as a follow-up to his engaging presentation Crossing the Generational  Divide  — at the 2021 LIMRA  Annual  Conference.  Dorsey  is  a pioneering Gen Z, Millennial,  and generational  speaker and researcher — on a mission  to separate generational myth from truth through data to solve strategic challenges for leaders. He has appeared on TV shows such as 60 Minutes, 20/20, CNN, CNBC, The Early Show, and The  Today  Show.  His best-selling book — Zconomy: How Gen Z Will Change the Future of Business — and What to Do About   It — was a #1 New Release on Amazon, and listed as a “Top 10 Business Book of 2020” in Forbes.

Q. How does The Center for Generational Kinetics define a generation?

A. We define a generation as a segment of a geo- graphically linked population that experiences similar social and cultural events at roughly the same time in their maturation, leading to increased predictability by scenario. In other words, a group of people that were born about the same time and raised in about the same place. Geography plays a big  role in shaping  generations, and so often people don’t talk about that. Within the same generation, for example, in the U.S., we’ll see differences between urban and rural. Sometimes we paint generations with too broad a stroke and we actually overlook different groups. It’s really important to be aware of the role of geography. Some things are more consistent around the world and some things are less consistent.

Q. What types of trends shape each generation, and how do they affect the way we communicate/market “generationally”?

A. Technology is one of the most important trends that shapes generations. We like to look at people’s natural relationship with technology. What was the technol- ogy that they came of age with, that to them was normal, but previous generations would have thought was a massive advance in technology? For example, Gen Z has always known mobile devices, digital devices, the internet; and in many cases, they don’t remember a time before social media.  And  when  that  happens,  you  have  a   different relationship with that technology than you would otherwise because you don’t remember a time before it. Every genera- tion has a different natural relationship with technology.

We often don’t see our own relationship with technology, generally speaking, until we’re forced to interact with some- one who has a different relationship with technology. Then it shows up in a massive way, and this is huge within your industry, especially in communication preferences. You have some people who really want to meet face-to-face, others want to talk on the phone, some want to do video chats, and some would just prefer to text. People tend to communicate the way that was comfortable for them coming of age. If you’re just naturally good at talking on the phone, then you may prefer reaching out to others by calling them. However, the person you’re trying to reach may prefer a text message or an email, and so that aware- ness is crucial.

In addition, we study less obvious trends like parenting, because parenting informs so many things that a genera- tion brings into the world, like expectations around education, debt, work, or moving away from home. We learn many of these things from our parents.

We also look at economics. Are people coming of age during an economic time when they enter the workforce and are hugely in demand? Or did they enter during a recession? We also study generation-defining moments like 9/11 or the COVID-19 pandemic. These external experi- ences can have a huge impact, and that impact varies dramatically by generation.

Looking at these trends helps us to understand what shapes each generation and what different generations will carry forward with them. Understanding generational differences allows us to adapt how we communicate and recruit, as well as how we provide service.

Q. The financial services industry currently employs members of up to five generations in the workplace. What do executives need to know about these generations?

A. I think at a high level, the industry is at such an interesting time, because the generations that have grown and built the industry tend to be in more senior leadership roles, or just different places in their career relative to the newer generations coming in. When we think about these different generations, we need to assess how to best unlock their potential. For example, we know that Gen X is deciding right now if they should stay where they are and finish out their career, or if they will go somewhere else over the next few years. In many cases, when we work with clients in the industry, retaining Gen X is something that’s incredibly important, but not talked about enough. We should be talking about it, because they are at this career-defining moment. This is a huge deal given their experience, relationships, and knowledge.

The Millennials are the largest generation in the workforce. The oldest Millennials are now over age 40. They’re older than everyone assumes. We need to focus on developing their talent and making sure that they want to build a longer-term career here. On the flip side, they’re also finally having kids. We want to make sure that we accurately understand them to be able to connect, build trust, and market to them.

You also have Gen Z coming in, who are now up to age 25. They’re bringing all kinds of new talent and perspec- tives, and a fundamentally different relationship with many technologies. We want to future-proof our business by making sure we are an attractive place for people to work and build their careers.

Q. Which generation should financial services be focus- ing on the most right now, and why?

A. It really depends on where a specific business is, and what its challenges or opportunities are. Boomers are still the most influential generation in this indus- try because they tend to be the senior executives; they serve on the Boards that control access to capital and they have the greatest regulatory relationships. However, each genera- tion in their own way is essential. This industry has a massive opportunity to attract, keep, and develop talent when it comes to Millennials and Gen Z. When we think about building businesses within this industry on the sales and marketing side, Millennials are at a critical moment. We want to make sure that we connect and build trust with them in addition to Gen X and Boomers. Applying a generational lens and perspective can help any business bring new solu- tions to challenges, particularly the legacy challenges that they face right now, to future-proof the business.

Q. What strategies do you recommend for financial services recruiting/retaining by generation?

A. The number one thing that organizations can do is recognize that how they communicate often represents the generation communicating, not the one they are trying to communicate with — whether that’s words or phrases or even the medium they’re trying to use. We encour- age leaders in this industry to create a generational snapshot of their workforce and then create a generational snapshot  of those they’re trying to engage on the client side.

A generational snapshot is a pie chart based on the gener- ation of people that are involved on either side. Having the generational snapshot is really helpful because people have a perception of the generations they think are in the workforce and of the generations they think they’re serving, and the vast majority of the time it is pretty far off from reality. We need to try new things to bridge that gap.

When we think about recruiting, we’ve got to find ways to reintroduce the industry to the next generation. They may not see it, think about it, or even know about it at all. Also, seeing more diversity in leadership roles is incredibly impor- tant in attracting the next generation.

Q. Let’s talk specifically about Gen Z. In your book, Zconomy, you claim that, “Gen Z will influence the future of business in a massive way.” Can you expand on that for our readers?

A. In our research with Gen Z, we’re finding that they have a different relationship with technology than previous generations. They have a deep dependence on mobile, particularly mobile devices. For example, in this industry, I hear executives say, “We’re mobile first.” Our research shows that when it comes to Gen Z, you have to be mobile only. That’s a big difference in mindset because it means that they need to complete everythin on a mobile device.

Gen Z is heavily dependent on influencers and social media as their sources of information, particularly around monetary decisions, which is very different in highly regu- lated industries. Many companies are not on TikTok, Instagram, or YouTube, and we know those channels are where Gen Z is. If you are not there, then they are not going to know who you are or necessarily be interested in buying from you. If you want to reach Gen Z, you have to go to where they already are. You can’t think they are going to ultimately look like other generations. They are not going to suddenly start watching the evening news or reading the newspaper!

Q. Our industry has been focused on Millennials. What would you say is the greatest difference between Millennials and Gen Z?

A. As I said already, Gen Z has a different relation- ship with technology than Millennials do. But they are also more frugal with their money than Millennials. They’ve come of age when financial services and banking have always been digital. In fact, their definition of a bank   is fundamentally different from that of other generations. They don’t  even think that you need a branch in order to   be a bank. At the same time, the flow of money is dramati- cally different for them because they use Cash App, Venmo, Zelle, etc.

Gen Z is more interested in digital currency. Our research shows that they are dramatically more interested in cryp- tocurrency than any other generation. Gen Z is also entering the workforce later, which means they’re learning about retirement and saving money later. They are postpon- ing certain things like getting a driver’s license. People frequently say Gen Zs are just like Millennials, but they are not. They were raised differently. Their experiences are different. They’ve lived through the COVID-19 pandemic at an extremely formative age. We believe that they will continue to emerge and look very different from Millennials long term.


Understanding generations accurately can create advantages and help companies build strategies that drive short-and long-term growth.


Q. Any final thoughts you would like to share?

A. Understanding generations accurately can create advantages and help companies build strategies that drive short- and long-term growth. This industry has five generations within its organizations. This is truly a once-in-a-generation moment because there is only one time period when a new generation emerges, and we just happen to be in it right now. I think the risk to the industry is not being ready for the next generation. Many compa- nies adapted too late to Millennials and then spent years trying to play catch-up to win that generation. The one thing that the industry can do now is to pay close attention to Gen Z, so they don’t repeat that; and instead, they can unlock the potential of the generation now at this critical time.