Hey Banks, Seniors Love Their Mobile Phones, Too

Register now

While many banks and fintech companies see millennials as the golden opportunity, a handful of organizations are going for the silver.

For controlling a substantial chunk of the wealth in the U.S., seniors are woefully underserved compared to their younger counterparts when it comes to digital banking products designed with them in mind. Although there are specific challenges related to targeting this segment, observers say the financial services industry could be missing a major opportunity to build value with customers by only equating digital products with millennials.

"People have been ignoring [seniors] for too long," said Tom Kamber, an executive director of Older Adults Technology Services, a nonprofit that works with banks and other companies.

According to Kamber, the convenience of digital banking is not lost on older Americans, it is largely an issue of access and education. "There is still one more group ready to do it."

Some of the ways some banks and fintech are targeting seniors include adding digital banking entitlements for trusted individuals, such as adult children or guardians, similar to what is offered to small-business owners for office managers or accountants. Others are using data to quickly uncover elder abuse. For some, it is as simple as teaching older customers how to use digital tools in the branch.

However they reach older generations, the potential is substantial. A 2016 study from the Federal Reserve found that only 18% of those over the age of 60 use mobile banking services. That compares to 67% between the ages of 18 to 29 and 58% for those who are 30 to 44.

"It's a remarkable opportunity," said Bryan Claggett, chief marketing officer at Geezeo, a white-label personal financial management provider.

He also believes there is a demand for products that give seniors a sense of control of their finances, even things like mobile alerts on low balances or transactions could drive adoption.

"They want to feel empowered," said Claggett. "There's a pride issue."

Older adults, he says, are becoming increasingly attached to their mobile phones and they enjoy it -- including his 89-year-old father. "I will get a text if [my dad] falls and can't get up," said Claggett, half-joking.

Technology that aids in financial protection is of particular interest to the demographic. According to February research from AARP, four of every five Americans age 50 and above want their financial institutions to proactively fight financial exploitation -- and 41% of respondents said they would be very likely or somewhat likely to pay for those services.

Older Americans -- who own 67% of U.S. bank deposits -- are losing at least $3 billion per year to financial exploitation according to the same research report. That number may even be higher as the crime, which can be embarrassing to the victim, goes unreported.

In recent months, the Consumer Financial Protection Agency has been urging banks to, among other things, embrace tech that helps spot suspicious account activity and products associated with elder fraud abuse.

Startup EverSafe is running tailored algorithms to alert seniors and their trusted advisers to possible abuse.

For instance, it's not unusual for a 22-year-old to withdraw cash at an ATM at 2 a.m. but it's not so typical of an 80-year-old.

"It's really a matter of identifying what is happening in a senior's financial life," said Howard Tischler, founder and chief executive of EverSafe.

To that end, EverSafe crunches financial data across users' varied bank accounts to identify red flags and then the service sends alerts via email or another channel of the senior's or trusted advocate's choice. The idea is to catch the many fraud issues seniors are up against before more damage is done.

"Identity theft is just a small part of problem that affects seniors," said Tischler, whose company is seeking bank distribution partnerships. "They are specific target for perpetrators. ...That's where the money is."

Some institutions are starting to explore this area, too.

The $1.5 billion-asset Bank of American Fork in Utah offers a feature that lets seniors share read-only access with people like their adult children or a lawyer.

"It's so simple, it's almost ridiculous," says Tracey Larson, vice president and special projects manager at Bank of American Fork.

But since launching five years ago, Larson says adoption has been slow, particularly when the bank tried charging a $3 monthly maintenance fee for usage. In those early days, she says seniors would tell bankers they'd rather share their password over paying $3.

But it hasn't been the only challenge. As Larson sees it, there's a psychological barrier to someone giving the keys to their transaction data away.

On the other hand, she views capabilities like read-only access as important to catching exploitation sooner. Paper statements, after all, come only once a month. "The damage may have already been done," said Larson.

There are other challenges in catering to seniors' needs, including marketing, said Kevin Tynan, senior vice president of marketing at Liberty Bank in Chicago. One of the barriers is reaching seniors digitally. If they've never signed up for digital banking, but have been long-time customers, it is unlikely that the bank has an email address for them.

Liberty Bank will soon be holding an informal, in-person focus group on what the bank needs to do – if anything – to introduce seniors to electronic banking. "We're going back to the basics to try to figure this out," said Tynan.

For most banks, however, investments are still needed. AARP is seeking to partner with banks to, among other things, create training modules that help banks recognize and prevent exploitation. "Those are relationships we are currently establishing," said Jilenne Gunther, a senior strategic policy advisor at AARP.

With many observers, the conversation often leads back to education. Older people want digital services, but many need a little push.

"A lot of seniors want to use the tools but are terrified of them," said Kamber of Older Adults Technology Services. Teach them how to do it could help quell those fears.

To that end, Older Adults Technology recently partnered with Citi Community Development to create a financial literacy curriculum that will range from budgeting tips (including using tools like Mint) to how to use a mouse. The course, which will officially begin in January, will be held in a community center in a low-income neighborhood in New York.

Of course, as time marches on and younger people become older people, pushing digital services likely won't be as challenging.

"It's kind of a given," Larson said.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, click here.
Fintech Mobile banking Digital banking