A CEO has said a momentous thing about millennials.
"It's a pretty tough time to be 30 years old," Tamara Vrooman, president and chief executive officer at Vancouver City Savings Credit Union, said in a recent interview. This column has for the past several years been documenting the economic challenges faced by young adults, but the business community has been pretty much silent. Now, finally, a voice of business is telling it like it is.
Vancity, the country's largest credit union outside Quebec, issued a report recently that looked at the personal finance of millennials in 10 cities based on incomes and housing costs. In some places, such as Edmonton, young adults are doing well. But in Vancouver, Victoria and Toronto, basic living costs combined with expensive housing and daycare are eating up all of the average household's income and then some.
Ms. Vrooman said Vancity noticed the financial issues its younger members and staff were facing and decided to investigate. "Our research shows these challenges are extraordinarily burdensome," she said. "Not very many generations could look forward to affluence as soon as they graduated from college or university and the ability to buy their preferred home in their preferred neighbourhood. But today's situation is an order of magnitude that is well beyond that."
Credit unions are hard-wired for empathy because they're answerable to their customers, or members and not to profit-hungry shareholders. But Vancity's up to more here than just acknowledging the pain of young people. It's also trying to understand how it can position itself as a business to meet the needs of people who will become core customers in the decades ahead.
"Millennials as a group represent our future members and our future leaders," Ms. Vrooman said. "So supporting them to thrive and to prosper is important for our business, and to our community."
This support takes a few different forms – mentoring young entrepreneurs and working with government to promote affordable housing. Vancity is also developing banking, borrowing and investing products specifically tailored for millennials who may be priced out of the housing market permanently and thus never own a home. These people will need to invest aggressively to build comparable wealth to homeowners and they'll have challenges borrowing at competitive rates because they don't have a house to use as collateral.
Part of Vancity's rationale for studying the personal finances of millennials was that it wanted to go beyond the anecdotal impressions that too often pass for analysis of this demographic's economic status. A significant number of people believe that millennials are experiencing the same trials as other generations – they just complain more.
Ms. Vrooman thinks something unique is happening today as a result of a "triple bounce" of historically low interest rates, a digital revolution in which technology is redefining all kinds of businesses and a global mobility of money that allows people in one country to easily invest in another. This latter factor has helped to create what she refers to as a "hyper cycle in real estate."
Housing is the big story in looking at millennials and their finances, but Ms. Vrooman said incomes are an issue as well. "It's taking longer for people to find meaningful employment, and you often see young people taking two or three jobs at a time." Ironically, both Vancouver and Toronto have lower median incomes for millennial couples than other cities. Edmonton, Calgary and Ottawa are highest, according to the Vancity study.
Combine incomes and house prices and you end up with an increasingly unaffordable housing market in some cities. An average millennial couple that bought a Vancouver house at the average cost in March, 2016, would have a shortfall of $2,745 annually after covering housing and other costs. In Toronto, discretionary income left over after basic costs would amount to just $3,379.
Add the cost of one child in daycare and the Vancouver family is in the red every year by $17,325, while the Toronto family is short by $12,509. The Vancity millennials report keys in on discretionary income, or the lack of it, because of research showing that having money to spend translates into greater happiness for low- and mid-income households. This money-happiness relationship was less directly apparent at higher incomes, the report suggested.
Vancity's interest in millennials stands out in a business community that regards this group mainly as quirky customers and employees who live out of their smartphones. We'll see in the years ahead who builds more brand loyalty.