The bulk of wealth in the United States is currently held by people 55 or older. But the baby-boom generation has been busily building assets on its own - and stands to inherit trillions from parents over the next two decades or so.
But while the wealth gap may be narrowing, the generation gap isn't - when it comes to technology.
David R. Palmer, managing director of David Ross Palmer and Associates, a New York-based consultancy, observed that older Americans generally are not as technologically oriented as the younger generation.
For trust and private bankers serving the affluent market, that means catering to different customer preferences. "Banks have to walk two paths," said Mr. Palmer.
J. Terrence Murray, an executive vice president at Northern Trust in Chicago, agreed. "It's going to require us to be looking at different types of delivery mechanisms and making sure that we are available and providing on a proactive basis information ... in some type of electronic delivery format."
"Some of the low-tech options such as voice mail," he added, "are things that people value in terms of being able to leave directions and instructions at any hour."
It's also important to offer more convenient options to customers to match the services available through nonbank competitors.
David Rahn, senior vice president at First American Trust Co. in Santa Ana, Calif., for example, said banks and trust firms can learn much from mutual fund companies. "You call them today and they can check your signature card, they can check all of your most recent allocation decisions between your funds, and tell you exactly where they are at," he said. "We need to be exactly in the same place, but we need to do it with high touch."
And Mr. Murray noted that while older Americans often prefer dealing with banks because of "the trust factor," baby boomers are just as comfortable dealing with nonbanks.
"They are good competition. The fact is that brokers have an outstanding reputation for being good salespeople," he said. "Those of us on the banking side have to work pretty hard to try to catch up with brokers."
But Tom Hills, Atlanta city president for Wachovia Bank of Georgia, said banks enjoy one advantage over nonbanks when targeting increasingly affluent baby boomers: customer information.
"Having the ability to garner business from individuals when they are in a rising income position, and being able to graduate them into a higher level of service, and a more sophisticated range of products, is something that you can do when you've got a larger organization, the general bank, behind you," he said.