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Here’s a fun little stat from across the pond: The oldest customer of financial services conglomerate HSBC to have downloaded its banking app is aged 108.

Ok, so that just qualifies as a novelty item, but it’s part of a larger report from the British Bankers’ Association that focuses on the growing phenomenon of online banking among older consumers. The research shows that 2.3 million people in the United Kingdom between the ages of 70 and 100 now engage in Internet banking.  The number of customers over 60 doing banking via smartphones and tablets, meanwhile, is approaching half a million, representing mobile maturity in every sense.

There’s a slightly discordant note about all this—the focus is invariably on millennials, that bratty demographic known for its addiction to ease of use and instant gratification. As we’ve all been told time and again, these younger consumers drive new app development by being ultra-fickle: They switch between technologies—and by extension, between financial services providers—almost on a whim, loyalty be damned. Holding on to their business means constant and frantic upgrades, with new apps for new platforms, always to keep pace with changing tastes.

But while staying on this never-ending pursuit of an elusive market, is there another that deserves more attention? Specifically, should we be doing more to please our older customers?

It’s not a trivial issue. In fact, it may be one of the most important paths to success.

Consider the numbers. The first Baby Boomer turned 65 more than four years ago; today, according to a 2010 U.S. Census brief, the seniors’ age group has become the largest in terms of size and percent of the population in the U.S. An American turns 50 every seven seconds, making for 12,500 new entrants to this demographic every day. This year, according to the AARP, those aged 50 and older will represent 45% of the entire U.S. adult population.

They aren’t all Luddites either. According to studies from the Pew Research Center last summer, nearly 60% of the 65-plus market are online, and 71% go online every day. The top motivations for doing it are communication, shopping and health—in other words, not banking.

And then there’s the money. By 2018, almost half the country’s adult population will be over the age of 50, and these folks will control 70% of all disposable income. In fact, this particular generation will inherit something like $15 trillion in the next 20 years. These old geezers have some serious cash. In fact, according to Forrester Research, boomers outspend younger adults online 2:1 on a per-capita basis.

So that brings us back to the core issue: The endless attention devoted to Gen Y. The apps must be fun to use, they must be integrated with other capabilities ranging from video games to shopping, and so on. It’s a different take on the old marketing adage that most outreach should be aimed at those between 18 and 49, since after that their brand habits are essentially set.

But we could make the case that that’s precisely the reason to develop banking apps and other technology-based services specifically for older customers. Unlike those that came after, this demographic is perceived to be more loyal. They also have more disposable income, spend more online and could benefit more from technology assistance.

One note of caution here: Senior fraud already accounts for $2.9 billion in losses each year. This is an issue the American Bankers’ Association, the AARP and the Clinton Global Initiative are already working on. Given the never-ending stories of cybercrime, let’s acknowledge that this might become an area ripe for abuse.

But with effective security in place, what are financial services providers with multiple technology initiatives doing specifically to target this market? What distinguishes apps aimed at consumers who are 50-plus, or even 65-plus? What effect is it having on the bottom line? We’d love to know.


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James W. Gabberty

Gabberty is a professor of information systems at Pace University in New York City. An alumnus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and New York University Polytechnic Institute, he has served as an expert witness in telecommunication and information security at the federal and state levels and holds numerous certifications from SANS & ISACA.

Marisa Mann

Marisa Mann brings over 15 years of experience in consulting and financial services industries to the Solstice team, working on large scale enterprise initiatives across many technologies, including specializing in the digital space – Internet and mobile. Mann is passionate about mobile and the endless possibilities for the enterprise, delivering business value through strong brand recognition and driving to excellence in the consumer experience. Prior to Solstice, Mann worked at JP Morgan Chase, Diamond Management and Technology Consultants, Washington Mutual, Inc, and Accenture.

Brad Strothkamp

Zachary Ehrlich

25-year-old writer, and as a native San Franciscan, I am unreasonably loyal to Bank of America, if only for their superhero-like origin story, involving the 1906 earthquake and Italian fruit vendors.