With baby boomers starting to enter their fifties, banks are scrambling to offer special products catering to their needs.
Senior accounts, which typically offer discounts on bank products and waive monthly fees, are one way bank marketing experts have been carving their customer bases into segments that can be targeted for more profitable services.
"Banks are doing a lot of thinking about segmentation and developing products that fit specific needs," said Mary Beth Sullivan, a consultant at Furash & Co. in Alexandria, Va.
Products aimed at the over-50 set are going to become more popular in the coming years as bankers try to grab a bigger piece of the affluent baby boomer market, Ms. Sullivan said.
Some banks, including many in the Sun Belt states of the South, have been offering senior accounts for the last few years.
At Summit Bancorp in Princeton, N.J., customers over 50 qualify for the bank's Preferred 50 account. In addition to free checking, travelers checks, and notary services, the account offers protection against loss of or problems with items bought with Summit bank checks or debit cards.
Summit's account, like those at other banks that offer senior programs, encourages the use of electronic banking channels, including automatic funds transfer for Social Security checks.
"Customers in this segment are looking for convenience-oriented products, contrary to popular opinion that older people won't use electronic banking services," Ms. Sullivan said.
At Birmingham, Ala.-based SouthTrust Corp., customers over age 50 qualify for Silver Service Checking.
The account's features include bonus rates on certificates of deposit, discounted safety deposit boxes, free travelers checks, and a smart card that stores vital medical information that can be used at hospital emergency rooms.
SouthTrust customers who use the account also get discounts of 10% on hotel rooms and 3% on car rentals, airline tickets, and cruise packages, as well as 10% cash rebates on meals at participating restaurants.
The Crown Classic Account from Wachovia Corp. of Winston-Salem, N.C., offers no-penalty early withdrawal from CDs for health-related emergencies as well as discounts on financial planning and a newsletter with articles on travel, health, and investments.
First Union Corp. in Charlotte, N.C., also has special options for customers over 50.
Its Resource Banking account offers estate planning consultations, free American Express gift checks, 5% discounts on brokerage commissions, and $500,000 in travel accident insurance.