Get ready -- there is a good chance that the news media are going to alarm banks' best customers the older customers.

Regardless of the reassurances from government and business about Y2K problems' being minor, some customers are going to be genuinely concerned, even afraid, of the risk to their money. And those with the greatest susceptibility to rumors and fear of losing their money will be older.

Older investors and savers are far and away the financial services industry's best retail customers. In the investment area, retired individuals control fully one-quarter of household net worth in this country. In the banking area, they hold well over 50% of bank deposits.

To them, it won't make much difference that your organization has identified, modified, tested, installed, and verified systems. They won't care that you have prepared a written contingency plan. They don't care that you have cancelled all employee vacations or time off during the holiday period.

To communicate effectively in this environment, it is crucial to understand that with older depositors and investors, bank personnel will be dealing with an emotional issue, not a technical one. That emotional issue is further complicated by the way in which many older investors take in and process information.

Consider what happens when a bank investment or customer service representative is asked a question about the millennium bug by an older customer, and he or she responds with a straightforward, factual answer.

Because of the way older adults process information, they do not internalize the answer. In effect, the employee's answer to the question does not make the customer feel better.

Because the problem is basically emotional and the feeling of discomfort remains, the investor takes actions to feel better. This might be simply calling and asking the question and using up the employee's valuable time. Or it could be worse.

It could result in the person taking money out of savings and/or investment accounts, withdrawing cash from automated teller machines, or borrowing large amounts. It could be a small amount or one large amount or several withdrawals. It might even be taking investment dollars away from your investment rep and doing something with it.

What is the answer to this problem?

It comes in two related parts. First, the emotional problem must be recognized, and the older client needs reassurances to reduce anxiety. Second, the manner in which Y2K information is given must conform to the way in which older customers take in and process information.

Effective reassurance depends on getting information through to the older client. That requires understanding the right approach.

Financial information is logical, linear, numbers-oriented. It is processed on the left side of the brain. Unfortunately, older adults do most of their information processing on the right side of the brain as we age we tend to be more right-brain dominant.

Sensory processing occurs on the right side of the brain, the intuitive side, where we feel things "in our gut." It is also there that we experience emotions good and bad. Memory is sensory, not analytical. It occurs in the right hemisphere in the form of images, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches.

Therefore, explaining Y2K in logical, analytical terms is usually ineffective. Instead, we need to use right-brain-responsive concepts, to tap the listener's memory.

A historical analogy can be effective: "Remember the 1950s and 1960s? Y2K is similar to bomb shelters and other precautions taken because of the fear of nuclear war. What happened? Nothing. We view the Y2K threat the same way."

We need a different approach than we do when dealing with younger people. According to research psychologists, younger minds are more literal and thus generally respond better to a language style that is direct and detailed. They have less tolerance for ambiguity and subtlety, and thus prefer crisp black-and-white renderings of the world.

Older minds "get it" with less said. They are more responsive to nuances, subtleties, and the emotional content and context of information. They are not usually interested in the intricate details, but rather in the conclusions. They learn better with narrative-style, as opposed to expository, presentations. Word pictures, analogies, and metaphors are effective tools of communication.

If older investors are given the exact same answers as younger investors (or vice versa), they won't be satisfied. They will keep pushing for answers that meet their own internal standards for adequacy.

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