A handful of bankers who were among the 239 delegates to the recent White House conference on retirement savings said they fueled up on ways to get people focused on preparing for their golden years.

Women, immigrants, and low-income people in particular may need more guidance about socking away money for retirement, several participants said.

"A lot of great ideas came out of it. Now we have to see if we can implement them," said Virginia Miller, vice president of trustee and fiduciary services at Fleet Financial Group, Boston.

The meeting, held June 4-5, was the first of three mandated by Congress; the others will follow in 2001 and 2004. The aim is to exchange ideas, promote public awareness, and enhance commitment to retirement savings.

President Clinton picked 100 delegates, and House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott each picked 50. The remaining 39 included congressional leaders, agency heads, and members of the American Savings Education Council, a nonprofit organization in Washington that deals with retirement issues.

The event, authorized by the SAVER Act (for "Savings Are Vital to Everyone's Retirement"), drew a cross-section of ages, industries, and regions.

"Because it was a pretty diverse group, we talked about problems I might not have come up with on my own," said Ms. Miller, who was recommended to President Clinton by the American Bankers Association.

For Ms. Miller, the most interesting part of the White House conference was when participants broke out into groups of 25 and discussed barriers to educating consumers about retirement preparation. Another concern addressed was that women who work for small businesses do not save enough for retirement. Still another was how to reach people who do not speak English.

Ms. Miller said she believes Fleet should consider increasing its presence in the community by offering retirement-planning workshops at branches. She would also like to see Fleet "make a specific effort to reach women and lower-income people," she said.

One idea that struck delegate Louis E. Prezeau Sr., president and chief executive officer of City National Bank of New Jersey, Newark, was somehow to funnel part of the money spent on lottery tickets into retirement savings.

"If everybody put $10 a week in some sort of retirement plan, they'd be doing pretty well," said Mr. Prezeau, whose name was submitted to President Clinton by Rep. Donald Payne, D-N.J.

Mr. Prezeau said the delegates saw a need to get the savings habit started early. Since the early 1990s, he said, City National has sponsored a program for children from low- and moderate-income families that is meant to teach them about investment and encourage them to finish school.

Under the program, a foundation has bought-at a discount-30 shares of stock in the $140 million-asset bank for each of about 1,000 students, some of whom signed up as early as second grade. The dividends go into their savings accounts, and those who graduate from high school get to keep the stock too.

Mr. Prezeau said City National also gives periodic seminars to schoolchildren about saving money.

The bank also plans to beef up staff training on retirement issues. "If we're going to educate the low- and moderate-income customer to save for retirement, we need to make sure that our staff is educated first," he said.

Another delegate, Aubrey B. Patterson, chairman and CEO of $4.7 billion- asset BancorpSouth Inc. in Tupelo, Miss., came away with the message that commercial banks have a "wonderful opportunity" to help people save money and manage it better.

"I think that there is going to be a need, as individuals assume more responsibility for their own savings ... to have professional assistance in that process," said Mr. Patterson, who was picked as a delegate by Sen. Lott. "And Middle America feels more comfortable in its relationship with the local banker than it does with some other institution."

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.