Among the estimated 80 million people who make up the so-called "millennial generation," only half plan to put their money in stocks, savings accounts or 401(k) plans, according to a survey released by Microsoft.
The survey, conducted by Washington-based KRC Research in August, found that people born between 1981 and 2000 have developed a cynical view of banks and investment firms after the near-collapse of companies such as American International Group and Citigroup.
Of those surveyed, 67% said they're wary of stocks because of the weak economy, and 82% are concerned that more financial institutions will fail. Fifty-one percent said they're unlikely to put money in 401(k) plans or other retirement accounts.
Many of the survey participants said the finance industry was out of touch with the needs of young customers. Based on the findings, millennials prefer to conduct their banking through personalized Web portals and smart-phone applications. They also favor new methods of business communication, such as online chats.
"We've done a fair amount of research about the millennial generation," says Bill Hartnett, director of U.S. insurance solutions for Microsoft. "But none of it has really drilled down into the financial markets specifically and their attitudes about finance."
Mistrust seems to be the prevailing mood.
"This is a generation that grew up seeing Enron," Hartnett says. "Their parents had to work their entire careers at a given company, but still saw their pensions just go up in smoke."
Millennials have a similar view of employers, he says, citing a similar study conducted a year ago. In that survey, many expected to have 15 to 20 jobs during their lifetimes.
Hartnett said the generation's skepticism of stocks and retirement plans is particularly troubling.
"They probably have one of the best entry points for getting into the equity markets that any generation has ever had, with the way the markets have gone down over the past year," he says.
For Microsoft, there's much to be gained by understanding this up-and-coming generation, especially as the market for personal-finance tools becomes more competitive. The company's money-management products, which include Money Plus Deluxe and Money Plus Home & Business, face increased competition from newer ventures, such as Mint.com, which was recently acquired by Intuit(INTU Quote).
The software maker is teaming with Citigroup(C Quote) to develop a better online service for personal finance. Understanding young consumers will be crucial as it refines its traditional product lines.
"Let's be honest, this is the next generation of high-net-worth individuals," Hartnett says. "They are just entering the marketplace and starting to build their wealth. These are going to be the people that everybody is coveting a few years out. The people that 'get it' right now and are establishing that trust link with this group of people are going to have a leg up."
Reported by Joe Mont in Boston.