Over the next 18 years, the "mature adult" market - people over 50 - will increase about 50%, while the under-50 market will increase by only 1%.

Bankers would be wise to affirm or reaffirm their approach to this growing market. Unfortunately, most who target the older market segments take a programmatic or tactical, rather than a strategic, approach to increasing market share.

But age changes alone, as highlighted in the considerable attention to demographic trends, are not the appropriate focus.

Beyond |Senior' Programs

Bankers have developed a frame of reference about the aging marketplace that too often causes them to focus on the development of "senior" programs as their sole method of serving this significant group of customers. But this approach is costing them market share.

Rather than designing services based on the age groups in a given market - programmatic or tactical approach - bankers should concentrate on developing strategies to improve customer satisfaction across all of the current services provided.

Such strategies will come only by better understanding the behavior of the mature adult and applying that knowledge to current business and marketing decision-making.

A New Paradigm

David B. Wolfe, a noted expert on the business implications of an aging marketplace, has called for a new paradigm based on psychodynamic research.

"Psychodynamics theory," says Wolfe, "is based in human development concepts, principally following the ideas of Carl Jung, Abraham Maslow, and Erik Erikson on human development processes and stages."

Bankers who take the time to understand the behavior of the mature adult and the findings of life-stage and lifestyle research, as well as the findings of split-brain, chronological vs. cognitive age research, etc., will significantly increase their chances of success in an aging marketplace.

Through a process that changes their frame of reference regarding the mature adult, and the frame of reference of employees, bankers can make significant progress and improve their position in an aging marketplace.

Key Questions

To begin changing the frame of reference about a segment that makes up 60% to 80% of a bank's business, bankers might consider asking the following questions:

* Has our bank critically and strategically thought through its vision, goals, strategies, priorities, and potential options to set a direction and sense of purpose?

Are we integrating the implications of an aging marketplace into our vision, goals, and strategies as well as into your Total Quality Management and/or Continuous Quality Improvement efforts"

* Is leadership collaborating to shape a culture that makes superior service as natural as thinking? In larger banks, has a leader surfaced and been empowered to champion the necessary vision, goals, and strategies of a mature-adult market improvement initiative? (In smaller banks the president is the "champion.")

* Have we begun developing an organizational culture to support the belief that the service-delivery staff are the most important people in the bank - since it is they who contact the customer? Do we understand that the environment we create for the staff is the world they will create for the customer?

* Do we know our internal capabilities, and have we declared war on bureaucracy?

* Have we begun analyzing our organization's service delivery or distribution system, with the goal of responding to the life satisfaction needs of this population?

* Do we know the needs, wants, and desires of an aging marketplace? Have we identified the service gaps through qualitative and quantitative research?

* Have we taken the time to acquire and apply our knowledge of an aging marketplace to operations management and to service planning and decision making?

Do we continue to use the age of the target market as the determining factor for service development or modification? Or do we use life-stage and lifestyle research to determine our approach to service development and improvement?

* Are we questioning our current approach to communicating with the mature adult? Do we consider perceptions, values, behaviors, and physical changes of the target market in our deliberations? Have we considered the age of those in our organization responsible for communications to the mature adult market?

Generation Gap

Generally, younger staff members have difficulty empathizing with mature adults. Are we including members of the mature-adult population in our service design, delivery, and communications development process?

Bankers cannot continue to practice what they consider to be "tried and true" methods to attract and retain customers. The physiological, psychological, and behavioral changes brought about by the aging process demand a significantly different management and marketing approach than is currently, being practiced by many bankers.

Mr. Gilmartin is president Coming of Age Inc., a consulting firm in Glen Ellyn, Ill.

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