Case Study

How an Established Financial Institution Learned to Speak Gen Z


Effectively managing personal finances is an important milestone on the path to independence. As members of Gen Z approach this stage of life, they’re looking around to see what tools and institutions fit their financial needs and values.

Our client, a major financial institution, recognized that in order to reach this cohort, they needed to learn to “speak” their language. The company understood that Gen Z’s values, beliefs, and attitudes differed greatly from prior generations; but they lacked a deeper understanding of how their values differed, in general and in terms of personal finance.

The company tasked C+R with developing a comprehensive qualitative research program to help them better understand Gen Z. C+R’s research design resulted in actionable insights, leading to a series of creative communication, education, and marketing strategies. 


Understanding the Next Generation of Banking Consumers

A major financial institution wanted to attract Gen Z consumers by offering advice and services custom-fit to their needs. But first, they needed to understand the macro forces shaping this generation’s values, attitudes, and behaviors.

Through its research efforts, our client sought to:

  • Build empathy with the Gen Z consumer by understanding their important cultural milestones and attitudes toward these life events
  • Understand the values and attitudes of Gen Z toward media, brands, money, and finances
  • Achieve alignment within their organization regarding how to translate insights into actionable business opportunities and communication strategies


Sometimes Immersion Is the Best Way to Learn

To help our client understand Gen Z’s views on banking and finances, we created a three-stage research program.

First, we led a Gen Z grounding session. At the session, our client shared learnings from prior research, as well as early hypotheses they hoped to test. C+R then conducted a “Gen Z 101” presentation to share institutional knowledge about this cohort (including perspectives, values, and spending habits). The session closed with a discussion of knowledge gaps and further hypotheses to explore.

In the second stage, C+R conducted a digital ethnography via an immersive mobile community. The community, which lasted two weeks, served as a virtual meeting space for participants to answer polls, participate in discussions, and engage in creative activities. Topics explored included: personal values, social media, and financial habits, including spending and/or saving, financial goals, preferred bank brands, and ideal banking experiences. Researchers could also follow participants’ social media outputs in this space.

To encourage participation, the community had a fun “house party” vibe. A subset of the overall sample was invited to participate in 60-minute webcam interviews where facilitators dove deeper into topics discussed in the community.

In total, 38 teens (ages 14-17) and young adults (ages 18-23) participated in the research. There was a mix of men and women from across the United States. All participants currently had a bank account or were considering opening one in the near future, and they all owned smartphones and had active social media accounts. For participants under 18, a parent also participated in the research.

Following the mobile community and webcam interviews, C+R conducted a strategy activation workshop to immerse the client team in the research insights and align on implications for the brand.

The result

Creative New Education and Marketing Strategies That “Speak Gen Z”

Through the research, our client gained a greater understanding of the Gen Z cohort, including their values, how they see the world, and the importance they place on “connection” (both with family and via social media). The company also learned about this cohort’s spending and saving habits, and what these consumers expect from a financial institution. C+R’s research informed a series of creative new education and marketing strategies designed to win these up-and-coming banking consumers.

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