Walk into any bank lobby on a busy afternoon and you are likely to see a disproportionate number of older Americans in line, holding passbooks and deposit slips, not more than a few steps from an automated teller machine that could handle the same transaction.

The observation that seniors prefer face-to-face banking has been confirmed in study after study, most recently in a poll for the American Banker.

The survey, conducted by the Gallup Organization, found that Americans over age 65 are about half as likely to own an ATM card as those between ages 18 and 24.

ATM card ownership peaks at 73% among people in their 30s and 40s, and falls dramatically for those over age 55. Younger Americans also use ATM cards more frequently. What's more, the rate of card ownership for older Americans has actually declined in the last two years.

At the same time, banks are expanding ATM locations beyond branches and offering home banking and other nonbranch services. But many older customers - who as a group are the wealthiest Americans - shun these newer technologies designed to increase efficiency and convenience.

So the American Banker asked: What is your bank doing to educate and attract older customers to use ATMs and other high-tech services?

Basically, Household's philosophy is to offer multiple options to customers so they can interact with us in the way that is convenient and comfortable. We think technology needs to offer added choices, not take choices away from the customer.

Therefore, we have not tried to force or even encourage technologies like ATMs on older customers, because our research shows that they have a strong preference for face-to-face interaction.

We have invested in teller and platform technology that facilitates that kind of face-to-face service.

We do make these technologies - such as ATMs and automated phone service - available to those customers who prefer this type of service.

We stress the safety and convenience of our products. For example, we explain to our customers that if they have our Advantage debit card they don't have to open another bank account if they plan to spend the winter months in warmer climates.

Phone banking and home banking through PCs offer another level of safety and convenience, since customers can do their banking without going to a branch or even to their mailbox.

The key, though, is that we want to make it easy for our customers to do their banking however they're most comfortable, whether it's through high-tech services or by the more traditional weekly visit to their neighborhood branch.

We have found that demonstrations have been a successful way to encourage customers of all ages to use ATMs. An ATM card is part of our account-opening package, and our staff members take the time when the account is opened to show customers how easy and convenient it is to use an ATM.

In the past, we have hired retired Wilmington Trust staff members to serve as ATM demonstrators. This has worked very well. Since our retirees can identify with some of the concerns our older customers might have, they are very effective answering questions and helping our customers become comfortable using ATMs.

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