Bankers are forging new ways to differentiate profitable customers from those who offer only the potential for profit. Quantifying the divergence between them takes sophisticated methods of synthesizing data that use the latest banking technology. The next step may be the creation of "smart" systems that learn from shifts in customers' behavior over time, and can predict their changing profitability through different life stages.

To be sure, consultants and marketers have been exhorting banks for years to consider customer profitability in their marketing. Executives want to segment consumers by their behavior, rather than simply by geography or demographics. But the technology to do so accurately has lagged.

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