When it comes to personal finances, how do millennials differ from past generations?
That’s the question we posed to a number of finance and tech executives on the sidelines of Fortune’s inaugural Brainstorm Finance conference in June. Our speakers’ demystified what makes millennials tick, from their receptivity to investing in new asset types to their expectations as customers of financial services.
Barry Silbert, founder and CEO of Digital Currency Group, a cryptocurrency investment firm, highlighted how millennials are accustomed to new technologies causing a “transformation in the financial markets.”
Millennials are “going to have available to them globally a whole new category, a whole new group of investment opportunities that didn’t exist in our older generation, thanks in large part to something like digital currency and blockchain,” Silbert said, referring to the distributed database technology that underpins cryptocurrencies.
Adam White, chief operating officer of Bakkt, a Bitcoin business that is a sibling of the New York Stock Exchange, said younger people’s portfolios are more likely to contain cryptocurrencies than those of their predecessors. “When I speak to an older generation, digital assets like Bitcoin and Ether are foreign or strange. They challenge a whole bunch of preconceived notions around what is money and is it even legal or not,” he said.
“I do think that crypto-assets are going to be a part of their investment thesis,” White said.
Greg Becker, CEO and president of Silicon Valley Bank, a major startup funder, noted that not all millennials are created equal. The market is bifurcated by wealth; “it depends on how much money they have,” he said.
Millennials with less money gravitate toward cheaper digital services. "They’re looking broadly at robo-advisors, at Robinhood,” Becker said, referring to automated investing apps and a popular upstart brokerage, respectively.
Millennials with more money seek more personal, higher-touch experiences when it comes to investment advice, Becker continued. “They want people who are going to sit there and be their advocate.”
Henrique Dubugras, the 23-year-old CEO and cofounder of Brex, an upstart corporate credit card issuer, divided his peers into two categories based not on net worth but on doggedness.
“Either they’re super-optimizers and they take pride in that,” Dubugras said, pointing to people who hunt for the highest yield savings accounts and who game rewards points by using multiple credit cards, or they're more passive in terms of financial planning.
Lisa Marchese, American Express’s head of corporate development, said that younger people expect speed and personalized services from banks. Millennials have “grown up in a digital era where information and accessibility is fast and quick,” she said. “They expect to be treated like an individual, not a number.”
Sallie Krawcheck, CEO and cofounder of Ellevest, an investing service geared toward women, said she admires the millennial mindset, which is often preoccupied with having a “positive impact.”
“If their money is over at XYZ bank in a deposit and they’re making loans to gun manufacturers, their money is having” some impact, she said. “Either their money can have the positive effect they want it to, or it can have an effect that they’re ignoring.”
Krawcheck approved of the younger generation’s values. “Go Millennials!” she said. “Give us hell—give the Baby Boomers hell.”
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