The Loyola University Chicago Department of Philosophy offers a course entitled PHIL 280: Being Human: Philosophical Perspectives. In the course description we learn that the syllabus is “a treatment of the meaning of human nature. The course considers the human person as physical being, as knower, as responsible agent, as a person in relation to other persons, to society, to God, and to the end, or purpose, of human life.”1
Let’s explore this a little further.
Humans are physical beings. We now know that 99 percent of a human body is made up of atoms of hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen and oxygen. What about those atoms?
“The size of an atom is governed by the average location of its electrons. Nuclei are around 100,000 times smaller than the atoms they’re housed in. If the nucleus were the size of a peanut, the atom would be about the size of a baseball stadium. If we lost all the dead space inside our atoms, we would each be able to fit into a particle of lead dust, and the entire human race would fit into the volume of a sugar cube.”2
I am pretty sure it would blow the minds of the “social distancing” police if all of humanity was packed into the space of a sugar cube!
Human beings are knowers, responsible agents. This is the very basis of any discussion of social justice. We expect people to know how to behave and when they do not, we want them held responsible.
A human being is a person in relation to other persons, to society. We judge how well someone is acting in relation to other people by using a standard that we call cultural norms. “Cultural norms are the standards we live by. They are the shared expectations and rules that guide behavior of people within social groups. Cultural norms are learned and reinforced from parents, friends, teachers and others while growing up in a society.”3 In recent decades we have experienced significant changes in what are considered cultural norms. Yet, there are some norms that seem to transcend generations and cultural shifts.
Human life. Every aspect of the financial services industry can be encapsulated in those two words. Because human life is finite, we offer life insurance. Because human life is fragile, we offer disability insurance, medical insurance, long term care insurance. Because human life can be unpredictably extended, we offer annuities and investments.
Like all of nature, human life is also generational. “Generational theorists Neil Howe and William Strauss are usually credited with identifying and naming U.S. 20th-century generations in their 1991 book titled Generations.”4 They have categorized and labeled the last six generations as follows:
- 2000–: New Silent Generation or Generation Z
- 1980 to 2000: Millennials or Generation Y
- 1965 to 1979: Thirteeners (America’s thirteenth generation) or Generation X
- 1946 to 1964: Baby Boomers
- 1925 to 1945: The Silent Generation
- 1900 to 1924: The G.I. Generation
For purposes of this article we want to focus on the human beings categorized as “Generation Z.”
“The Center for Generational Kinetics lists the latest generation as beginning in 1996 and labels these people either Gen Z, iGen, or Centennials.”5 The moniker, “iGeneration” seems to be catching hold. Labels help companies and marketers who are trying to reach young people. This latest generation is viewed primarily as relating to the world via technology (think iPhone, iPad) and, therefore, placing an “i” in front of generation seems to be apt.
Question: How Will the Financial Services Industry Serve the iGeneration?
Wendell Berry wrote a marvelous novel entitled Jayber Crow. Consider the way he describes human life in relation to the inverse relationship between time and memory. When we were young, “Life was all time and almost no memory.” When we are old, however, we see that, “Life is almost entirely memory and very little time.” In the end, we all, “Belong entirely to memory, and it will not be our memory that we belong to.”6
Point: There is an inverse relationship between time and memory. The implication is, the accumulation of useful wisdom flows in a direction that places the greatest treasure at the point it is least needed. Our memories of knowledge and wisdom gained through experience reach their peak at the moment we run out of time.
Proposal: What if we used the technology embraced by the newest generation in order to pass on the memories (knowledge and wisdom) our industry has accumulated?
The human beings comprising the iGeneration are not going to be “knowers or responsible agents” when it comes to their finances unless the financial services industry gets creative soon. We must be the “others” who help shape the cultural norms that will inform the behavior of iGen individuals.
Example: I discovered a web site offering an interactive game-like experience that teaches important personal finance concepts.
The web site is located here: https://www.genirevolution.org/overview.php
From the web site: “The Gen i Revolution consists of sixteen interactive missions in which students complete a variety of activities to help them learn important personal finance concepts. Within each mission, students are introduced to a character who is facing a particular financial crisis. As a part of the Gen i Revolution, the student learns about the crisis, strategically selects ‘Operatives,’ and then completes activities with the ultimate goal of solving the mission.”
This tool is available for teachers and students grades six through 12.
Consider these sample Missions:
- Mission 1: Building Wealth Over the Long Term.
- Concepts: Compound interest, Saving.
- Description: “Angela Faces the 401(k) Challenge. Why should she sign up now when retirement is so far in the future? Your mission is to convince Angela to invest in a 401(k) plan now to build wealth over the long term.”
- Mission 4: Budgeting
- Concepts: Budgeting, Financial goal setting, Saving
- Description: “Clayton and Casey ‘O’Neil are a young married couple with two children. They both have jobs and seem well off to their friends, but they cannot seem to save any money. They want to buy a home but need to save up the down payment. They keep good financial records, but do not have any money left over at the end of the month for saving. Your mission is to help the O’Neils identify how to save $300 a month for a down payment on a home.”
- Mission 6: Risk and Return
- Concepts: Forms of saving and investing, Costs and benefits of saving, Risk vs. Return, Diversification.
- Description: “Kai Chung’s wealthy grandmother has given each of her grandchildren $10,000 to invest for their future. Kai is planning to go to college and wants to use his gift for that purpose. In the meantime, he wants to put the money where it will grow, but he does not want to take a lot of risk with it. Your mission is to persuade Kai to invest his Grandmother’s $10,000 in a type of asset with the appropriate risk and return for the time when he will need the money for college.”
- Mission 15: Financial Planning
- Concepts: Forms of saving and investing, Diversification, Risk vs. return, Financial goal setting, Bonds, Certificate of deposit, Diversification, Liquidity, Money market account, Mutual funds, Principal, Rate of return, Risk, Savings account, Stocks.
- Description: “The Red Roosters community service club is sponsoring a financial planning workshop for its members. Gen i has been asked to conduct the workshop in the absence of the group’s president. Your mission is to conduct a financial planning workshop with several members of the Red Roosters community service club.”
- Mission 16: Risk and Insurance
- Concepts: Dealing with risk, Insurance as a means of sharing risk, Types of insurance, Factors affecting cost and coverage.
- “Eight Mile Community College is holding an insurance fair. Student Lamar plans to attend and is contemplating his options. Your mission is to educate Lamar on the basics of risk management, help him decide whether insurance is a good idea for him, and if so, advise him on appropriate insurance policies.”
This interactive tool was created by The Council for Economic Education (CEE). I encourage you to visit their web site found here: https://www.councilforeconed.org.
According to the web site, “CEE’s mission is to equip K-12 students with the tools and knowledge of personal finance and economics so that they can make better decisions for themselves, their families, and their communities.”
CEE Vision: “To reach and teach every child in America about personal finance and economics.”
While I celebrate this effort on behalf of CEE, I appeal to all of us in independent financial services to step up to the challenge of sending memories back downstream, generationally.
- Look at your professional life. How are you helping to educate the next generation?
- What do you have in your hands, what investable assets do you own that you can direct to building relevance with people in the youngest generations?
- Could you develop internships for members of the iGeneration?
- Are you equipping clients who have children in the iGeneration to train them in financial literacy?
- Could you and your team host Financial Training Camps?
- Could you partner with your own community’s teachers of grades six through 12 to use the Gen i Revolution game?
- Spend time on the Council for Economic Education website. Could you create similar content on your web site?
The financial services industry exists because of human beings. We have served generation after generation. Our relevancy to the people in the younger generation depends on our ability to share with them our memories of experience, wisdom and knowledge. Now is the time to invest in platforms to introduce these young people to the benefits of owning the products we represent. As human beings their lives are connected to other people, and we do our best work in the space defined by those relationships.
This is your opportunity to maximize your humanity, to be a “person in relation to other persons, to society, to God, and to the end, or purpose, of human life.”
If we do this well, we will eventually belong entirely to the memory of others, including many in the iGeneration.
- Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry, Counterpoint, Berkeley, CA Copyright © 2000.