Generation X and Finance: Generation X-pert Laurie Haelen (Part Two)

LaurieHaelenThis week is Part Two of our Generation X-pert conversation with Laurie Haelen, Sr. Vice President, Team Leader and Wealth Advisor for Canandaigua National Bank. (You can check out Part One here). Let’s jump right back in.

GenXManager: Generation X is kind of known for their precarious financial situation. They are the most indebted generation, their retirement savings took the biggest hit in the Great Recession, etc. As a Wealth Advisor, do you feel that Generation X has been somewhat overlooked by the finance industry?

LH: Absolutely. Baby Boomers are working longer so GenX-ers aren’t able to move up as fast. There they are again, stuck in the middle—maybe caring for aging parents as they take care of their kids. It’s really challenging for them.

GXM: From an advisor perspective, do you think there is opportunity with this group?

LH: I do, especially with financial planning. I never planned when I was younger—I was too cynical about it. But at this point GenX can really benefit from it.

GXM: What about Millennials? Is the financial industry doing things to try to develop them?

LH: With Millennials it’s very interesting. Many of them saw their parents burned by the financial crisis, and they don’t want that. They’re looking for something different. They may want to invest, but not for return alone. They may want to invest to make the world a better place.

They also tend to want to do it themselves as opposed to having somebody do it for them. You may have heard of robo-advisors. It’s a way to use technology to build a portfolio, continue to add to it and do all the things that traditional money managers do for a much lower cost. There’s been a big trend of Millennials moving in that direction. But they also like ad hoc advice. They like to have somebody checking in about different aspects of their financial life, and so the traditional money manager who just wants to charge a fee for a portfolio is struggling to figure out how they can service this generation. Frankly, many of them (money managers) are just saying, “I’m not even going to bother. I’m going to be retiring soon.” Right now, there are more financial advisors facing retirement than in any other time.

GXM: What does that mean for the industry as far as attracting new talent?

LH: It’s a huge challenge because many young people do not want to be in sales. Sales is an environment where they don’t feel comfortable, or they don’t want the rejection that comes along with sales. And currently, financial advisors do sell.

GXM: Do you see the model changing? Because you can look at financial advising in two ways: one is that it’s sales, which it absolutely is, but it’s also helping people, which could be very attractive to younger generations.

LH: I do. Some of the larger robo-advisors are adding Certified Financial Planners to their staffs, and so clients could have access to that advice when they need it. So staffing models are moving towards more of a salaried staffing model since those people advise and do not have to sell. It’s different than the traditional old school brokerage model or insurance model where everything that you did was commissioned.

GXM: What led you to a career in finance? I know that you got your degree in English Literature.

LH: Well, I graduated and then realized that there was nothing I could do with that degree at all. I think I had 40 jobs in my 20s. So I was drifting around in different jobs and playing in bands and a friend of mine worked for John Hancock Financial Services. Her mom worked there as a recruiter and really liked me (she was like this glamorous person and I was always impressed by her) and she said, “You know you’d be really good at selling insurance,” and I said, “Why would anybody to do that?” But I went and interviewed with her and I took a psychological profile test. And they called me to tell me I failed the psychological profile test because, basically, it measured how materialistic you were. And I wasn’t. But she fudged the results and I went into the training program, which involved calling lists of people in the morning, which I hated, and then going out to meet with people and helping them with their insurance issues, which I loved. I lasted about a year, then I went into banking.

I realized then that I really liked the ‘helping people’ piece of the industry. I am very good at explaining things to people—I think that’s the English Literature background. I could take a really tough concept and pare it down and communicate to people in a way they could understand. I moved away from insurance and toward investments, taking classes, getting licenses, etc. In 1995 I ended up in the trust side of the business, working with trusts, fee-based investment management and financial planning, and I’ve been there ever since.

GXM: What advice do you have for people starting out who want a career in finance?

LH: Get an advanced credential of some kind to help you specialize. A Certified Financial Planner designation is really well-regarded. If you’re on the investment side, a Chartered Financial Analyst is great. Internships are a great idea as they let you see if you really like the industry. Then I would say invest on your own—just a few dollars at a time so you can see how investing works from a hands-on perspective.

GXM: As a GenX manager, what do you think are the assets that GenX brings to the workplace and what are some attributes that might hold us back?

LH: I think being real is an asset. I love that part of Generation X. And reminiscing of course.

GXM: That’s how we bonded.

LH: Yes! I call it “fossiling”. I think GenX’s reliance on email can hold us back in the workplace. Sometimes it’s better to be in the same room. We like email because it’s quick and direct, but there are some cases where being face to face is the right thing for the situation.

GXM: Lessons you’ve learned along the way?

LH: I’m not as important as I think I am. No one is. Recognize people for great work. You can’t over-recognize someone. Recognize people who are in roles which maybe traditionally don’t get recognized very often, like a receptionist or the person who sits in the back just processing all day. Those people might fall through the cracks but they’re the ones that make the whole place run.

Another lesson: don’t only like people that are like you. When I was a new manager, I tended to “pick” people that thought like me, but that’s not where you get the best teamwork. You can learn from people who may have different talents and they can learn from you. And not to be afraid of conflict. I used to fear it, but I know now that conflict is not the end of the world. It can be healthy and it can solve problems.

GXM: That’s really good advice. The strength of a team comes from having a variety of styles and approaches. Laurie—thanks for being this month’s Generation X-pert.

You can connect with Laurie Haelen on LinkedIn at

Are you a Generation X-pert? We’re looking to interview GenX-ers about their career paths, their experience leading employees, and how their specific industry interacts with Boomers, GenX, Millennials and more as part of a series for Email for more information.



Generation X and Finance: Meet Generation X-pert Laurie Haelen

LaurieHaelenOur Generation X-pert series continues with Laurie Haelen, Sr. Vice President, Team Leader and Wealth Advisor for Canandaigua National Bank. I first met Laurie when I was a marketing manager for a financial services firm and Laurie joined the organization as SVP and Director of Investments. When our first official meeting evolved into an hour-long discussion about ’80s music, I knew she was my cup of tea. We have both since moved on from the firm but she remains one of my dearest friends. Her 25-year career in finance has given her a ton of experience in managing employees (and clients) from different generations. Part One of our conversation about her career path, the finance industry and of course Generation X follows, edited for clarity.

The GenX Manager: You and I talk all the time about being part of Generation X. What does that mean to you? What do you think of?

Laurie Haelen: When I think of Generation X, I think of coming of age in the ’80s, a time that celebrated a certain type of person, an “Alex P. Keaton,” if you will.

GXM: A yuppie.

LH: Yes, and if you weren’t a yuppie, then you were “somebody else.” And somebody else felt disenfranchised and distant from the consumerism that was happening. I remember feeling like there was all of this stuff going on in the world: the Cold War, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the “just say no to drugs” campaign and the AIDS crisis. I felt like there was a divide between people moving forward in their yuppie way and the people who were cynical about it.

GXM: How do you feel about where GenX is today—in work and in life?

LH: I think that, in many ways, we’re lost a little in translation. I think the Baby Boomers have been such a defining generation in the workplace, with their work ethic and habits. Everybody knows what they stand for. And everyone seems to know what the Millennials stand for, but no one seems to be talking about Generation X. I remember taking a leadership class on dealing with the generations, and it’s interesting because all I remember is how to deal with Millennials and how to deal with Baby Boomers. I can’t remember what the plan was for us.

GXM: Fewer meetings?

LH: Right. And email them. Now I’m remembering. But I’m on the early edge of GenX, closer to the Baby Boomers, and I prefer in-person communication. What I see from Generation X, especially being in finance, is that education and credentials are not the most important things to them. There’s some cynicism around that. Having more of a real relationship is more important to them.

GXM: Authenticity.

LH: Exactly. That’s interesting because that’s very important to Baby Boomers. GenX-ers were also the first ones to view work as “doing work,” not a place or a time frame. So, if it takes a GenX-er five hours to complete an eight-hour project, they’re like, “I’m done.” To GenX, that’s OK, whereas to Baby Boomers it’s not OK; you’re going to sit there and get the eight hours in. So, that’s one thing I think is true. I hate the “bean counting.” And I, too, am less impressed with someone’s credentials than I am with how they treat people. I am impressed by the type of person they are. I don’t care about the letters after their name.

GXM: Do you remember from that leadership class what the advice was for managing Millennials?

LH: Oh, I do. It was to make them feel special. If you’re their boss, Millennials might want you to meet their parents. Communicate the way they want to communicate, texting, etc. And give them recognition—meaningful recognition.

In my experience managing Millennials, all of this has been true. And for us as their managers, we need to be very clear about what we expect from them and to let them know how they’re doing—where they’re at, where they’re going, what the path is and how to get there.

I’ve had lots of conversations with Millennial employees about money, about title, about status. They ask very early on, “How did you get where you are? How can I do what you do?” And in my head, I’m thinking, “It took me 20 years to get here!”

GXM: We did pay some dues, our generation. Certainly the Boomers did, and they value that. So, it is kind of new territory for us to see people who don’t know about paying dues or that there are no dues to pay anymore.

LH: And I’ve had some experiences with Millennials where I’ve given them more money, more schooling, or more opportunities and they took them without hesitation and then moved on very quickly. In my generation, and certainly in older generations, we tend to stick to things. But now as you know that loyalty between employer and employee is gone—on both sides. And so I can’t really blame them. That is a characteristic of our generation—trying to see things from both sides.

GXM: What do you feel you’ve learned from Millennials?

LH: They’re great at advocating for themselves. I did not advocate for myself at their age, and I did think it was kind of amazing and cool that they would have the audacity to tell me they need to make more money. The way they use technology, that’s something I try to stay on top of. There are tools that exist to improve efficiencies, and Millennials can many times do things faster than some other generations. But I respect the advocacy, and I respect the courage they have to advocate for themselves. I have also found that when criticism is dealt, they get over it quickly.

GXM: What about managing Baby Boomers as someone younger than them? What was it like for you to supervise people older than you early in your career?

LH: In my early career, it was like all these people are my dad. That made it very hard to say no to them or really give them any kind of negative feedback. It made it hard for me to finally stand up to them and say, “Wait a minute. You might have more years of experience, but I am in charge and this is my call.” That was hard. It took years for me to be able to do that. Confronting them felt like confronting a parent.

Now, it’s much different. It’s more, “I understand where you’re coming from, and I really value you.” That’s really meaningful to them. And I do everything in person with Baby Boomers, especially if I think it’s going to be particularly disruptive or violates their values. I am very mindful now of how I give feedback, and I’ll adjust my communication style based on generational considerations.

Tune in next week for Part 2 of my conversation with Laurie and get her take on how the financial industry is responding to generational needs, her career path and her advice for people interested in a career in finance. Catch the exciting conclusion right here!

Four Reasons Brands Don’t Market to GenX (and One Big Reason Why They Should)

I wrote in an earlier post about an experience I had regarding a Fidelity commercial’s use of The Special’s “A Message to You Rudy”. Yes, I was caught off guard that ska was being used to sell retirement plans, but what was equally attention-getting was the fact that the spot was squarely aimed at a Generation X demographic. That doesn’t happen very often.

generation-xI’ve been in marketing for almost 20 years, and I understand the importance of target market selection. So why doesn’t GenX get the same marketing attention as Boomers or Millennials? Here are just a few reasons:

  • We’re small: Sandwiched between two of the largest generations, Boomers (74.9 million) and Millennials (75.4 million), GenX numbers look paltry indeed. There are two reasons for this. First, there was a drop in the number of births in the mid-60s, the beginning of Generation X. The other reason has to do with the fact that while no one can seem to agree on exactly when Generation X begins and ends, they do agree that Generation X lasts less than 20 years. Pew Research Center has the range from 1965-1980, Gallup says GenX runs from 1965-1979 and MetLife—going strictly by fertility patterns–has GenX at 1965-1976. Using the widely accepted Pew’s numbers, GenX has 40 million members. That’s practically a niche market as far as brands are concerned.
  • We’re poor: Allow me to clarify. In truth, Generation X is in their peak earning years, and produces 31% of total U.S. income while being just 25% of the population. However, we carry more debt than Boomers and Millennials, our retirement savings got creamed by the Great Recession, and we’re simultaneously saving for our kids’ educations and caring for aging parents. That doesn’t leave a lot of discretionary income, and marketers know it. Combine that with our small size and we’re not a very attractive target.
  • We’re old: A big reason Millennials are having a moment? They’re young. A marketing focus on youth culture is nothing new. When the term “teenager” was coined in the 1940s and the postwar prosperity of the 1950s put disposable income in the hands of this group, brands started messaging directly to young people. Youth marketing is important to brands because young people tend to have an influence on the buying decisions of friends and family. The middle aged marketing target is a narrow one to begin with, and GenX’s size makes that even tighter.
  • We’re savvy: Skeptical. Cynical. Distrustful. These labels might be an unfairly negative way to describe GenX, but there is a grain of truth in them. We value authenticity, and if we feel that you’re trying to put one over on us, we’re done. For brands that market effectively to Generation X, this is top of mind. Don’t try to fool us.

So on paper, we don’t look awesome. It’s easy to see why brand marketers would look at a list like this and take a hard pass at GenX as a target demographic. That would be a mistake, for a big reason:

  • We’re loyal: If, as a brand, you can offer something of value and tell an authentic story, you will find that Generation X is one of the most brand-loyal generations in history. That’s right. If you can manage to get us to like you, we will keep liking you. We’ll even pay more money for your stuff because we like you so much. GenX has a brand loyalty rate of 70%, according to a study by eMarketer.

For brands that are in it for the long haul, there’s another consideration to showing some love to GenX. We are the parents of Generation Z: a generation nearly as large as Millennials that holds $44 billion in buying power between their own money and influence on family spending. And they’re wired way more like their GenX parents than Millennials.

Ignore us at your peril.

Five GenX Business Leaders You’ve Never Heard Of (and at least three that you definitely have)

I like Mark Zuckerberg. I really do. He seems like a bright, thoughtful guy, and it’s because of him (and his college buds) that I can know what my retired mom in Florida is thinking about at almost any given moment. But as a GenX-er, I do grow weary of the Millennial/Genius/Entrepreneur narrative.

I get the whole Wunderkind thing that Zuck has going on. And with Millennials poised to be the most entrepreneurial generation in history, it’s easy to focus on the paradigm-shifters of that generation.

But Millennial business leaders aren’t the only ones who are changing the game. Some of today’s most well-known companies are being led by Generation X-ers. These are but a few, in no particular order as innovation is innovation, whether it’s applied to insurance, space travel or shoe selling.

  • Tony Hsieh, CEO, Zappos: What started as an online shoe store has grown into the gold standard of employee empowerment. Zappos brings the same kind of innovation that earned them the reputation of customer service mastery to their employee relations. Example: every (as in EVERY) new employee spends the first three weeks working in the Zappos call center to understand the business. When that time is up, the employee is offered $3,000 to leave the company.
  • Mary Callahan Erdoes, CEO, J.P. Morgan Asset Management: You don’t have to be a renegade CEO of a hi-tech business to be innovative. Erdoes, CEO of J.P. Morgan Asset Management since 2009, spearheaded several initiatives geared toward helping women in the male-dominated world of finance, including a program that recruits women who once worked in financial services but paused their careers to have children. She was #60 on Forbes’ “The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women” list in 2016.
  • Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter and of Square: One of “the Twitter guys”, Dorsey co-founded Twitter, left in 2008 and came back as CEO in 2015. In between, he launched and continues to run online payment company Square. Dorsey joins Gates, Jobs and Zuck in the pantheon of billionaire tech college dropouts.
  • Sara Blakely, founder, Spanx: With $5,000, Blakely took antiquated undergarments, made them comfortable, called them “shapewear” and created a whole new category in the fashion industry. That kind of GenX ingenuity will get you on Forbes Billionaire list, where Blakely is one of the youngest women.
  • Elon Musk, CEO and Chairman, Tesla: Okay, if you don’t know this guy, I don’t know what to tell you. Electric cars, space exploration, model/actress girlfriends. He’s the rumored inspiration for Tony Stark.
  • David Wehner, Mike Shroepfer, Sheryl Sandberg: Also known as Facebook’s management team (CFO, CTO and COO respectively). I told you I thought Zuck was a bright guy—smart move stocking the C-suite with GenX talent.
  • Spencer Rascoff, CEO, Zillow group: Whether you’ve bought a house recently, tried to find out what your neighbors paid for their house, or you just enjoy perusing the local listings, you probably know the real estate marketplace Zillow, where Rascoff’s been the CEO since 2010. Thanks to their “zestimates”, you can find out what your home is worth at any given second.
  • Tricia Griffith, CEO, Progressive Insurance: If Flo is the only person you know from Progressive, take a closer look. Griffith was the driving force behind the decision to expand into home coverage in 2015. She built her career at Progressive, starting as a claims rep in 1988. She’s now on the list of Fortune’s Most Powerful Women.
  • Larry Page, CEO, Alphabet: You probably know Alphabet better as the parent company of Google, the company that Page co-founded with fellow GenX-er and current Alphabet President Sergey Brin in 1998. Known for his somewhat unorthodox management style, he is credited as the brains behind PageRank, the algorithm that determines search engine results and has marketers like me obsessing over them. And with Google consistently topping “Best Place to Work” lists everywhere, he and Brin are viewed as the standard-bearers for innovative 21-st century corporate culture.
  • Susan Wojcicki, CEO, YouTube: Wojcicki began her career at Google as their first marketing manager in 1999 (Page and Brin were already working out of her garage—sweet commute). Seven years later she convinced them the company should buy YouTube and the rest is television-killing history.

The hallmarks of successful leadership– pragmatism, empathy, loyalty, innovation—are the same characteristics that are attributed to Generation X. In a competitive global business environment where organizations must adapt quickly to market forces that shift beneath their feet, it’s easy to see how GenX leaders are blazing trails.

Readers: this list merely scratches the surface. Got a GenX leader you admire? Share your thoughts in the comments.


Management in Action: Managing Rock Stars

They’re strategic thinkers who can also execute. They’re passionate about their work. They beat every deadline. They have a positive attitude and a commitment to the organization. They are the high performers.

guitar-1015750_640I call them rock stars, and I have been blessed to have managed many throughout my career. Rock stars are talented and make hard work look easy, and I gladly pick the brown M&Ms out of the candy dish in order to keep them performing well. But like actual rock stars, high performers need the right combination of support and autonomy from their leaders to keep them playing at a high level.

Got a high performer on your team? Here are some things to do to keep them rocking out:

  • Keep their instruments tuned. It’s your job as a leader to set your team members up for success. This means doing your best to get your people the tools they need to do their job well. Whether it’s investing in new technology or providing professional development opportunities, do what you can as a manager to get your rock stars what they need to continue to excel.
  • Give them a solo. As I mentioned, I’ve managed a few high performers over the course of my career, and I learned that sometimes the best thing I can do for them is to just stay out of their way. Micromanaging is about the worst thing you can do to a rock star. That being said, it’s not always reasonable for your high performers to expect complete autonomy. Work together to find that balance.
  • Have them write a song for a change. Most high performers are quick learners and pick up things easily. Playing the same songs day after day can get boring, so give your high performers new challenges and opportunities to branch out. Encouraging your rock stars to take the lead on certain projects and initiatives allows them to apply their talents in different ways, which can be reinvigorating for employees and foster higher levels of engagement.
  • Let them know how the album is doing. It can be difficult and de-motivating to work in a vacuum and not know how your day-to-day work is impacting the organization. Take time as a leader to connect those dots for your team by linking individual goals to your organization’s strategic goals, and give your rock stars regular feedback on how things are progressing.
  • Make sure they get their standing ovations. Often, high performers leave organizations because they don’t feel valued. Are you doing all you can to get them proper recognition? In addition to giving your high performers positive feedback and appreciation, make sure the higher-ups of your organizations are aware of your rock star’s hard work and talent. Encourage your high performers to engage with organizational leaders so they can raise their profile.
  • Put the band first. Having a high performer as part of your team can motivate other team members to higher achievement, or it can totally intimidate then. Rock stars tend to get a lot of attention, garner more responsibility, and perhaps enjoy more freedom. Continue to make investments in the rest of your team so that they too can develop the knowledge and skills that can elevate them to rock star status.

Rock star employees can absolutely be assets to your team, but it takes some careful management in order to get the most value. A high level of talent is not an excuse to treat people poorly or behave unprofessionally—something that actual rock stars have something of a reputation for. Good communication is crucial to understanding and creating a working dynamic that benefits you, them, the rest of your team, and the organization.

Rock on.

Readers: have you worked with rock stars? What’s been your experience with high performing employees? Share in the comments.