Retirement saving messaging for an under-30 audience

How to speak to a skeptical under-30 audience about saving for retirement

By Nelson Peña

April 26, 2023
Illustrated arrows not making their target
Not your parents' content: A unique set of challenges calls for new messaging

It’s a perennial challenge for the financial industry: How to convince younger generations to start saving early for retirement. As with any segmentation effort, it’s critical that financial brands truly understand this audience and create messages that resonate. With a potential $1 trillion retirement crisis on the horizon, it’s imperative we reach young savers where they are.

Those in their twenties will soon enough become the industry’s biggest income source. But the problem is getting them interested in the distant goal of retirement. The even bigger problem? This generation faces a combination unique to history.

For starters, as a group, they don’t have the same faith in the system as previous generations. Research shows that today’s young people have lower expectations of stability and are more skeptical of institutions. About a quarter of the under-30 crowd says it’s “not at all likely” that Social Security will be available for their retirement.

Though some younger Americans have always questioned this safety net, today’s skepticism goes deeper. People under 30 have come of age into a world of fading trust in institutions and the financial system. In 1990, a quarter of overall respondents in a Gallup survey said they had a lot of confidence in big business. Now the number is 14%. For banks specifically, the confidence rating has dropped from 36% in 1990 to 27% today. For those in their 20s, the trend is even stronger. In one pre-pandemic Pew survey, only a third of young people said they had a great deal or even fair amount of confidence in business leaders, a number far lower than reported by older counterparts.                     

The chart below illustrates some reasons for the trepidation. While every young generation faces economic challenges getting established, this one feels particularly hamstrung. For this reason, the financial industry needs to use a different approach to engage this audience. Traditional retirement messaging – based on old timetables and expectations – may fall flat.

Graphic showing the high increase in median rent, home prices, and student loan debt compared to the low increase in starting salary for college graduates

5 Ways to Connect with this Segment

For financial companies and professionals looking to grow their businesses, it’s crucial to take the time to understand this segment’s experiences and attitudes. Some ways to start:

1. Get the tone right. It helps to directly acknowledge the unique obstacles this generation is facing. Talk openly about college debt, housing costs and lagging income. Don’t pretend it’s always been the same. Try to avoid arguments that lean heavily on the market’s historical performance, or what other generations have done. To an under-30 audience, that’s ancient history and seems irrelevant to their plight. Instead, acknowledge their situation and help them find a path through. When discussing goals, put less emphasis on material things and more on experiences, which this group highly values.

2. Focus on things they can achieve financially. Show this age group key steps that they can take to improve their financial picture right now. Effective messages include attainable, understandable, real-life topics. For instance, explain why taking advantage of employer-based retirement savings plans is such a good idea. Another example: talk about how to build an emergency fund.

3. Avoid outdated financial industry clichés. Of course, it’s still important to deliver a message about the importance of retirement planning and long-term savings. The question is how you frame that guidance. You can try telling this audience that skipping their morning coffee every day may save them $30 a week, which adds up to more than $1,500 a year. Just don’t try overselling how $1,500 a year can fund their retirement. As the New York Times and countless other outlets have documented, many members of this group consider that kind of advice as hopelessly dated, stemming from a time when $1,500 in savings was a significant start on a nest egg. Many now see it, instead, as a drop in the bucket. With high debt and soaring costs all around them, many of those in their 20s are deeply skeptical that such savings will ever amount to anything. Keep in mind that, in many cases, they’d rather have the coffee.

4. Appeal to their technological ease. One way for financial companies to connect with this young audience is by extolling the virtues of high-tech tools that make saving and investing easier. Focus on useful, modern solutions such as automatic contributions, budgeting apps and financial calculators. To reach this group, provide short, digestible content in a wide variety of formats, from video to social media and more.

5. Don’t make them feel like they’ve fallen behind. In the past, when the financial industry occasionally did try to speak to young people, the message often was about how they needed to start saving early, or risk falling far behind. In today’s environment, such messaging tactics may backfire. Many in this segment already feel behind. For an effective messaging strategy, emphasize what’s attainable. Be open, empathetic and realistic. Don’t be afraid to talk about long-term savings, but do it with a practical approach that will build trust. They won’t be young forever. Now is the time to welcome these future customers into the conversation.

Let us help you create content that resonates

At Imprint, we’ve helped marketers in financial services better understand their segments for a decade. We’d love to hear about your current efforts, and discuss how we can help hone your messaging and content for this younger generation. Please reach out here or send an email to

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