The elderly, women, and minorities are the engines that will drive investment product programs into the future, industry experts say.

Banks must now woo these consumers - with their billions of dollars of assets - to invigorate mutual fund and annuity programs, according to speakers at a retail conference sponsored by the American Bankers Association.

"The world is not going to beat a path to your door just because you provide investment products," said Vicki Thomas, president of Thomas & Partners, Westport, Conn.

Bankers must "understand what it is going to take to position these products" with a new range of customers, Ms. Thomas said during the ABA conference held in Atlanta.

Each customer segment will require a different marketing strategy and, in some cases, changes in bankers' perceptions, speakers said.

It is quite common for Anglo-Saxon bankers to question the investing power of Hispanic and black customers, said Marilyn Alverio Habicht, a chief consultant with Tulin Diversiteam Associates, Philadelphia.

That lack of confidence is misguided and will hurt bankers, she said. Both groups represent opportunity. In fact, the Hispanic population is one of the fastest growing in the United States, she said.

Banks should demonstrate their interest in people of different nationalities by developing bilingual marketing materials and making sure sales representatives are comfortable with a broad range of customers, Ms. Habicht said.

The message struck a chord with bankers.

"It's an important consideration," said Michael R. Ruether, president of the White Bear Lake branch of Premier Banks, Maplewood, Minn.

Speakers at the conference said that bankers should also be taking a close look at older investors, These customers don't want to be coddled; they want respect and the tools to make their own investment decisions, said Maryann Bruce, senior vice president at Oppenheimer Funds Management, New York.

Banks, through their sales of investment products, can help seniors avoid "spending their golden years working at the golden arches," Ms. Bruce said.

Women also represent powerful investment forces, speakers said.

But women's financial needs may not be apparent right away; it can take a death, divorce, or job loss to create a pressing need.

"Those institutions that help women deal with these issues now will be better off," Ms. Bruce said.

Many bankers at the conference said they were just considering or beginning to market to specific groups. They added that the speakers reinforced their belief that they were on the right track.

"You have to go to the next step and focus on specific target groups," said Lori L. Teske, vice president at Citizens Bank, Riverside, R.I.

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