Bankers for years have operated under the assumption that “if you build it they will come.” ATMs are one example; credit cards are another. ATMs didn’t gain any significant traction until banks started networking the machines, in the early 1980s. As for credit cards, even though they had been around since the 1950s, consumer adoption really didn’t take off until the mid-1980s once Visa and MasterCard set up sophisticated card authorization and clearing networks.

But “if you build it they will come” is no longer a viable strategy for financial institutions. It’s the 21st Century. Consumers are driving changes in all areas of their daily lives; including financial services. And they’re insisting on convenience, low cost, speed and transparency. Oh, and did I mention convenience, as in anytime anyplace access to an expansive array of services.

Take prepaid debit cards. As a standalone product, prepaid debit doesn’t offer much more than a card-based (and safer) alternative to cash. Adding mobile check deposit makes prepaid debit more functional, and a viable alternative to checking accounts. But cashing checks to prepaid cards only begins to scratch the surface of what is possible with the combination of image capture, mobile and other recent technology breakthroughs. Account enrollment, bill pay and credit applications are just a few examples. The potential opportunities seem limitless.

Last week I was in Washington, DC, for the Power of Prepaid, an annual conference presented by the Network Branded Prepaid Card Association (NBPCA). There I had an opportunity to learn about some amazing innovations in financial services that aim to address the demands of a new generation of customers: Millennials.

The Millennial Generation is the most talked-about demographic in America today. And for good reason: at 80 million, this demographic represents more than a quarter of the entire U.S. population. The Baby Boom Generation by comparison is slightly smaller, and shrinking. As a result, future growth for banks, credit unions and other financial services providers will depend on how well they anticipate and respond to the needs and expectations of Millennials.

A recent Harris Interactive poll of Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 (i.e.: Millennials) offers a glimpse of the financial lives and needs of these young adults. And many are not satisfied with the status quo. “There is a clear desire among the Millennial generation for financial flexibility,” said Ken Rees, President and CEO of Think Finance, which commissioned the survey. “It’s also clear that traditional banking products are not meeting all of Millennials’ financial needs and that innovative, responsible alternatives are in demand.”

Although nearly all the Millennials surveyed said they used banks (92%), almost half (45%) said that they also had used nonbanks for financial services over the past year for services such as prepaid cards, check cashing, money transfer and payday loans. Among those Millennials who used these alternatives 42% said the nonbank products were more convenient, 31% said the fees were more predictable, and 30% told researchers the products did a better job of meeting their needs than did traditional bank products.

Millennials also prefer technology solutions. More than half (56%) said online was their preferred way to bank; 29% told Harris they use mobile apps to help manage their money. And we know from other research, and experience, that mobile check deposit is a popular app.

So where do we go from here? At the Power of Prepaid there was plenty of talk about integrating overdraft protection and/or other forms of credit with prepaid debit card programs. There were also discussions about how prepaid cards can be leveraged to encourage consumer savings. Some of these ideas could raise policy issues, and that was demonstrated by debates at the event. But there’s little skepticism that new core technologies like mobile image capture respond to the demands of a new generation of customers. And there’s plenty of agreement with the idea that expanded functionality leads to greater prepaid card usage and issuer profitability.

Banks and credit unions are well-positioned to respond to the demands of Millennials, as demonstrated by the fact that many Millennials have some type of relationship with financial institutions. And from the line-up of speakers and exhibitors/sponsors, and the meetings we had with attendees at the NBPCA event last week it was clear that there are many nonbanks pursuing this market.

At the end of the day, though, it’s not going to matter to the consumer who controls their financial touch points: financial institutions or nonbank alternatives. Consumers, especially young adults, just want the financial services they want, when and where they want them; they want services that are delivered quickly and affordably. Prepaid cards are a good start. But moving forward, success will demand holistic solutions that leverage image capture technologies to support new and evolving customer service opportunities, some of which we probably can’t even imagine today.