As part of a national campaign to boost personal savings, Clinton administration officials said Thursday that they plan to push banks to make their services more widely accessible.
"We are eager to see ... an expansion of availability of bank accounts," Deputy Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers said during a White House ceremony. "In the age of the Internet, every American should have a bank account to cash a paycheck."
Mr. Summers said the banking industry's bottom line would benefit if services were expanded and personal savings encouraged. "This is a case of enlightened self-interest," he said.
He noted that the financial services industry embraced the Roth IRA, which was another government effort to increase savings. "This is something our financial services industry should promote," he said.
The highlight of the education campaign is a June 4 and 5 summit on personal savings hosted by President Clinton. More than 250 bankers, academics, labor leaders, and lawmakers will consider new government programs to increase savings.
Scheduled to attend are Sun America chairman Eli Broad, American Express president Ken Chenault, Barclays Global Investors co-chairman Patricia Dunn, and Fleet Financial Group vice president Virginia Miller.
Mr. Summers said he is relying on banks and securities firms to heavily promote the need for families to increase their savings. "We can do a great deal to increase savings," he said. "But people will only know about them if they are marketed."
This is the best chance in a decade for the government to encourage private savings, Mr. Summers said. The budget deficit has turned into a surplus and the economy is strong. These factors have caused the national savings rate, which is the personal savings rate plus government budget surpluses, to rise to 6.5%, he said.
But Mr. Summers said the average couple is still not saving enough for retirement. "We are starting to see a situation where retired life is nearly as long as working life," he said. "That means ... more personal savings is an imperative."
Olena Berg, assistant Labor Department secretary for pension and welfare benefits, said one-third of employees with 401(k) plans do not use them and only 10% of those eligible have IRAs. "People are not even taking the first step of figuring out what they are going to need for retirement," she said.
The Securities and Exchange Commission kicks off its own investor education campaign March 29. It will include forums across the country and a work sheet available on the Internet that will tell consumers how much they need to save for retirement, SEC Commissioner Laura Ungar said.