In modern demographic parlance, I belong to a generation of cynics, pragmatists and latch-key kids. Born between 1961 and 1976 and sandwiched between the have-it-all Baby Boomers and the post-computer Generation Ys, we 4.5 million Gen Xs grew up in a time of drugs, divorce and economic strain.

We’re known for our resilience, self-reliance and dislike of authority and our burning resentment of the “old-fart” boomers – stemming from the fact that they just won’t move over and give us our time in the sun.

Gen Ys are a different breed altogether. As many employers are already finding out, this generation is a demanding lot – generally considered to be impatient, disloyal and self-obsessed. On the upside, apparently the average Gen Y is tech-savvy and acutely environmentally-conscious (although I have to say I always question this – I don’t know about you, but in my household it’s us Gen X’s who worry about recycling and saving water, and have the bucket in the shower etc – , the Gen Y in house, on the other hand, has a collection of power-guzzling gadgets and don’t even get me started on how many possible products that one can possibly use in one’s hair!

And I am sure they can’t be very environmentally friendly at all). Anyway – with Gen Xs moving into their peak income years and Gen Ys hot on their heels, super funds are being warned to look beyond the boomers and come to grips with what really makes these “wealth-creating” generations tick.

This was one of several key messages delivered by leading demographer Bernard Salt at a recent AIST lunch. The author of two books on generational change in Australia and a KPMG partner, Salt said it was important for super funds to recognise key differences between Gen Y and Gen X to effectively engage with these two generations and to keep in mind that each would behave differently from their preceding generation.

The message for super funds was to ensure their marketing strategies were aligned with the different values of each generation. A one-size-fits-all marketing strategy won’t work. According to Salt, while baby boomers wouldn’t dream of consulting their parents (who came from the 1920s) about such matters as superannuation, the “I live for today” GenYs are comfortable turning to their parents for financial counsel.

The way through to Gen Y – the first generation to have superannuation for its entire working life – might be through the collegiate relationship they have with their parents. Salt also predicted that demographic changes – both in Australia and overseas – will have a powerful impact on the business environment in which super funds and other financial service providers operate.

The worry is our ageing workforce and Australia’s looming ‘demographic fault line’ – the point at which more people are exiting the workforce than entering. Australia is set to cross this line in 2010. By then, the number of Australians aged 15-19 will increase by 19,000, whereas the number of those aged 65-69 will increase by 439,000.

According to Salt, certain Australian industries will feel the brunt of the boomer bulge a lot earlier than others – as will those super funds with a close alliance to these industries. Such funds include those with a high number of farmers and teachers, with 68 percent of beef cattle farmers aged over 50, along with 34 percent of secondary school teachers.

But all funds, says Salt, will need to develop a ten year strategic outlook for members by occupation and industry. Funds should also be thinking of ways to engage with Australia’s growing migrant intake, particularly in the light of our ageing workforce and a likely further tightening of labour market conditions.

Since 2006, the number of Indians and Chinese moving to Melbourne has grown by more than 40,000. Funds that aren’t already connecting with these burgeoning migrant groups risk missing out on a growth market. Meanwhile, for funds keen to engage with their baby boomer members, Salt’s key message is don’t mention the ‘r’ word.

Boomers won’t retire in the traditional sense. Rather, they’ll move into the “lifestyle” stage of the life cycle. Many will extend their working life well beyond 58, currently the most common retirement age. Some will buy a Winnebago, others will resign to become consultants or corporate mentors.

Salt further predicts that boomers will be a grumpy lot in retirement. They’ll whinge and they’ll ask a lot of questions of their super fund or pension provider. So it’s well and truly time that funds start working seriously on segmenting their memberships and work on product development and marketing strategies that speak differently to each generation.

And most importantly, even though we are in the business of providing retirement incomes to millions of Australians – we need to find a way of doing it without mentioning the R word! Just as well, unlike other countries, we use the word superannuation rather than pension fund. In the meantime – roll on 2010 – the time when Gen Xs like me hit our peak and find our rightful place in the sun, even if only for a short period, until the Gen Ys over take us.

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