Banks' Neglect of Seniors in Digital Push Is Shortsighted

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In a relentless effort to serve millennials, banks have been pushing aside older customers by allowing them to flounder in what is to them an increasingly unfamiliar mobile banking environment. But as smartphone-carrying baby boomers retire, the market for banking to seniors is expanding. The imperative to cater to older individuals' unique mobile banking needs is becoming greater than ever. Seniors are the last frontier in digital banking.

Few people may be surprised by the results of a 2016 mobile banking study from the Federal Reserve: only 18% of seniors use mobile banking services, versus a whopping 67% of millennials.

Sure, seniors have been laggards in shifting to mobile banking. But our inability as an industry to design websites and apps that respond to the seniors' needs contributes to the lack of use.

Three years after Nielsen Norman Group released important research on seniors' challenges in using the web, web developers — predominantly young digital natives — are still not adequately taking into account older customers' challenges in using technology when designing digital interfaces. Not only are these customers generally less versed in the mobile environment, but designers are not considering the limited dexterity, as well as cognitive and visual acuity, of seniors as they age.

In 2013, Nielsen Norman reported that seniors found websites 43% harder to navigate than younger people. The website design firm found, for instance, that the success rate among seniors for completing an assigned task online is about one-third less than 21-to-55-year-olds (55% versus 75%).

Visual acuity is among the common senior problems, but it is rarely addressed in website design. In the same study, almost 20% of seniors reported an issue viewing the screen, compared with 5% of younger users. However, declining vision is not limited to seniors. Many users in their 40s said they would prefer larger fonts too.

Web designers and marketing teams need to focus on narrowing the gap in mobile banking know-how between younger customers and older customers — especially as baby boomers, who are generally more proficient in web and smartphone use, roll into retirement. It is critical for bankers to cater to their needs.

In 2002, the U.S. had an estimated 4.2 million Internet users over the age of 65. Ten years later, the number grew to 19 million — a growth rate of 16% per year, according to the Nielsen Norman Group. During the same period, the number of U.S. Internet users aged 30 to 49 increased only 3% per year.

Despite rapid growth, few banks have adjusted their websites or mobile banking services to meet the needs of the older generation. To embrace the challenge and appeal to seniors, here are design pointers suggested in the research that I wholeheartedly support:

  • Use a standard, easy-to-read font, no smaller than 12-point. Give users the option to increase text to their desired size.
  • Make hyperlinks larger to be more readable and a better target for aging eyes.
  • Avoid pull-down menus and other moving interface elements. It's better to use static user interface widgets and designs that don't require pixel-perfect pointing.
  • Keep changes to a minimum. Drastic design changes frustrate seniors the most. Half of all seniors in one study said they keep a list of steps and instructions about how to use websites they often visit.

Banks willing to create a senior-friendly web environment could reap a big advantage. Seniors, after all, constitute 19% of all account holders. The first step, however, is to start by incorporating a senior profile in the bank's usability testing phase. Then, cater to a population more tentative when browsing or making a digital transaction.
Kevin Tynan is senior vice president of marketing at Liberty Bank in Chicago. He can be reached on Twitter @kevintyn.

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