This year, the first of the baby boomer generation will reach a major milestone: turning 50.

Clearly, the aging boomer segment represents a sizable opportunity for bank-affiliated brokers.

Over the next 18 years, at a rate of 8,500 per day, almost 76 million people born between 1946 and 1964 will mark their 50th birthdays.

Turning 50 forces people to focus on the prospects of financing their retirement.

The good news is, the aging boomers are entering their peak earning years, and life expectancy has increased considerably. The bad news is, they may have to finance another 30 years after the normal retirement age of 65.

Here are some of the key characteristics of aging baby boomers and what they mean to bank investment representatives.

*Individualistic. The boomers' parents raised them to think for and of themselves. Additionally, they tend to be optimistic economically and possess a strong feeling of financial security - good credentials for long- term investors.

Bank investment sales reps need to understand how to respond to the individualistic nature of aging boomer clients. It means providing personalized answers to their financial needs. And, more important, it means acknowledging their independent spirit by giving them several investment options and leaving the decision-making to them.

*Diverse makeup. Their diversity stems primarily from sociological factors such as gender, race, education, income, marital status, employment, and geographic region.

It is most noticeable in the variety of living arrangements that define families and household composition.

These diverse households include singles living alone, singles living together, single parents, two careers, married, married with children, "blended family" (remarried with children), and "sandwich family" (caring for a child and an older parent.)

For bank investment reps, more complex living arrangements and family ties create financial planning issues, including investment time horizons, tolerance for risk, types of investments, as well as estate planning and trust issues.

It is critical that reps get a complete picture from aging boomer clients in order to provide relevant investment advice.

*Well educated. Older boomers, and all baby boomers for that matter, are the most educated generation ever . They are more demanding and sophisticated consumers, and tend to have a high degree of involvement with their investments. They call their broker more often, check the value of their investments regularly, and read the financial news three to four times a week.

Dealing with investors who are well-read and up-to-date on retirement issues and who understand theoretical concepts more easily presents unique challenges. Since they are likely to be high-tech consumers and more likely to own a personal computer than older or younger adults, they are comfortable with advisers who present information on laptop computer and communicate with them through electronic bulletin boards, E-mail, and faxes.

*Critical of authority. Because they were part of a rebellious generation as young people, in midlife they tend to be less accepting and more questioning of authority. They want to know the basis for investment recommendations so that they can decide for themselves whether it is valid. They don't like hype. This is not a generation that wants to hear an investment rep say, "Trust me."

*Short on time. Time is a precious commodity to them, and so is leading a fulfilling life. Their busy lifestyle allows limited time to do all that they have to do.

So investment reps should not waste the boomers' time. It means using clear and appropriate professional communications. The use of imagery can be very effective, if it's relevant. Visuals such as bar charts, pie charts, and graphs can be used to tell the story quickly. The use of icons and symbols enhances communications.

Mr. Sullivan is president of Michael P. Sullivan Associates, Charlotte, N.C., a consulting firm that specializes in marketing to older investors.

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