Years ago, seniors were the focus of community banks' marketing efforts. Senior clubs, travel programs, bingo games, financial seminars and even health screenings were among the ways banks routinely targeted pre- and post-retirees.
But all of that has changed. Banks have switched their marketing spotlights to millennials from older adults at a time when retirees are most in need of help to manage a crushing series of financial challenges. But this approach is shortsighted. Though banks have switched audiences, the profit potential of older customers has not changed.
Pre-retirees are in their peak earnings and savings years. They still, for example, constitute 31% of all homebuyers, according to the National Association of Realtors. Further, the Deloitte Center for Financial Services estimates baby boomers – the youngest of whom are 52 – are expected to continue to be the wealthiest generation in the U.S. until at least 2030.
Big banks have led the charge for millennials – a strategy that makes sense when a company's economies of scale skew toward feature-laden technologies appealing to younger customers. But it's a strategy that fails to make sense for community banks looking more for profit than promise. For a more immediate payoff, community banks should invest modestly in millennials and more heavily in older adults.
Those 55 and above, according to research by Accenture, are six times more loyal to their primary financial institution than younger customers. They choose financial institutions based on experience rather than technology, and they have a strong preference for in-person visits where customer service can shine.
The soon-to-be and recently retired are also facing an unprecedented set of economic pressures that banks could help them address. A fifth of those in their 50s expect never to retire, according to the Federal Reserve's older adult survey, for instance. The Employee Benefit Research Institute estimated that one in five seniors skipped seeing their doctor because of high out-of-pocket costs.
Banks win customers and build loyalty by demonstrating they understand client needs, and those needs are not limited to financial ones.
To cater to older adults, one method is to conduct in-house seminars on relevant topics: preparing for retirement, living on a fixed budget, avoiding financial scams or even caring for an elderly parent. To facilitate seminars, banks can partner with social agencies or financial professionals to bring in the required expertise. Jill Cataldo, the coupon queen of Chicago who shows seniors how to save thousands of dollars on their grocery bills, is always popular at our bank. And the seminars can deal with issues separate from senior's bottom line. Another popular event at our bank is an annual two-day classroom course we hold in partnership with AARP to allow seniors to refresh their driving skills.
The goal of each activity is not merely to attract the 50 or so people who may attend an event. Rather, it is to reach an audience that's maybe a hundred times larger. When they hear about the event from peers, they recognize yours as a financial institution that understands and caters to the needs of older customers.
Seniors need assistance to manage their transitions into retirement and community banks can be a dependable resource. Financial advice is a good tool for earning customer trust. But it's also a good marketing strategy for differentiating your bank from competitors, particularly money-center banks.
Kevin Tynan is senior vice president of marketing at Liberty Bank in Chicago. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.