The Rising Generation – Millennials and “Gen Z” – either already in or expected to assume positions of authority and governance in family offices are most at risk for digital threats. They will have authority, access, and a native digital skill set that rivals others. But these rising leaders will also face many enhanced threats and vulnerabilities based on their cyber behavior, especially the digital life they lead on their smart devices.
Gen Z is the first generation to have had a mobile device in their hands since their first year of life, with more than 95% of its members using smart devices as a daily part of their lives. According to Pew Research, Gen Z’s digital usage exceeds that of Millennials who grew up with digital technology. While one might conclude the tech-savvy nature of these generations would prepare them for the cybercrime so prevalent today, it’s actually their digital dependence and oversharing of sensitive information on social media that puts them at higher risk than any other group, including the elderly, who are typically the preferred target of scammers. According to the Federal Trade Commission, Millennials (considered those born between 1981 and 1996) and Gen Z (considered those born in 1997 and after) make up half of all identity theft cases. This is not a coincidence. Their constant use of connected devices, with more than 90% of them using smartphones to manage their finances, makes them an easy target.
It is also worth noting that most family offices and affluent families – which these Rising Gen members will someday lead – woefully underfund their assets’ physical and cyber protections relative to their value. All family offices, single and multi-family, are attractive targets with few protections in place to deal with today’s threats.
What can the Rising Generation do to increase their resilience in the face of these threats and vulnerabilities? Here are five ways they can improve their personal digital protections as they move into key leadership positions:
- Proactively manage devices and use secure communications. One of the biggest vulnerabilities for digital devices is outdated software. It has become safer and more convenient to update early than to “wait for the bugs to be worked out” and update later. When app and operating systems managers push out updates to address key vulnerabilities in their software, these should be implemented immediately. Research has demonstrated that older devices and older software open the door to bad actors. Devices used to carry out family communications, financial management, investment discussions, and other sensitive activities should leverage end-to-end encryption, two-factor authentication, and communication applications that have been proven to be secure.
- Practice good cyber security and understand vulnerabilities. How devices are connected is as important as the device being used. Devices should not be connected to public or otherwise unknown WiFi points because they are not secured; vetted or trusted access points are the smartest option. Unexpected emails with attachments and links, or links sent in SMS or other non-secure channels, are suspect and should not be clicked or opened. These practices aren’t just about data security: a device can be tracked by GPS and cellular systems, correlating it and its user to a specific location in the physical world. According to eMarketer, more than 20 million Gen Z members will leverage the power of wearable tech –more than any other generation before. Being more trackable and hackable than others, they face an even greater vulnerability in the physical world, particularly as fintech, decentralized finance, cryptocurrency, and other digital assets have bad actors targeting not just the device, but its user as well.
- Check sources and facts. Gen Z and Millennials are far more likely to follow, be influenced by, and receive what’s perceived as “factual” news via social media and online sources. If Rising Gen members are going to be involved in making key decisions for a family office, influencing investment decisions, or providing sage wisdom to a family council, they need to be able to discern what’s fact versus what is disinformation, rumor, or marketing. Consumption of unsourced, amplified social media should be balanced with qualified and vetted sources. Seek sources that check their facts and seek out other opinions and alternative analyses – especially those whose thinking is different. A different perspective often gives a leader the best insight and helps them avoid personal bias or groupthink.
- Go analog when it’s smart to do so. Having an “air gap,” a human decision process, and/or a “digital speed bump” to financial transactions, big investment decisions, and sensitive communications is very important. Yes, we all want a faster, seamless digital experience on our devices, and we just want to click a link and move on. However, the bad guys are very aware of this human impulse and have been exploiting it for two decades. Putting away the device, “going analog” to confirm the process that is underway is valid, and verbally confirming that intended recipients will receive the correct information is always a smart play. In this digital world, clicking on the wrong item, moving too fast on a financial transfer of funds, or not conducting due diligence on an investment opportunity can result in missing the objective, becoming a victim of fraud, or worse, an embarrassing digital breach or dangerous situation. Going analog where it’s warranted will help.
- Improve decision-making skills, and learn to operate under stress. Pursuing training to further develop one’s decision-making skills is a key part of professional development. Today’s world has a broader set of complex risks than have ever been seen on this planet. The threats are physical, digital, online, reputational, global, and geopolitical, and in some cases, they bring with them severe consequences. Threats from various vectors – personal, familial, and business – should be expected at a speed and scale that are new. The digital nature of their lives and their use of devices amplify the speed and impact of the decisions they make. Those who tend to move quickly must slow down and be deliberate and precise in their decision-making. Just as in marksmanship, the faster the trigger is pulled, the more likely the target will be missed. In order to hit the target, a decision-maker needs extensive training, a discerning eye, and experience. Training programs with scenarios designed to emulate real-world, high-pressure situations exist for Rising Gen members to develop strong decision-making skills and improve their ability to discern and evaluate information sources. The experience gained from this kind of training inoculates these new leaders to stress and increases their ability to deal with life’s challenges.
The world’s future depends upon the leaders rising from the ranks of Millenials and Gen Z. These new leaders need to be well-rounded and wise, able to stay ahead of the persistent and ever-evolving threats of the digital world where they manage so much of their lives. With the right risk management strategies and the development of strong decision-making capabilities, the Rising Generation will be able to securely move about the digital landscape with the tech prowess and confidence for which they have come to be famous.