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Business Journal
For Banks, Baby Boomers Mean Lucrative Business
Business Journal

For Banks, Baby Boomers Mean Lucrative Business

by Sean Williams

Story Highlights

  • Half of boomers report over $100,000 in investable assets
  • Primary banks must overcome considerable customer indifference
  • Fully engaged customers have more products with their banks

This article is part of an ongoing series analyzing how baby boomers -- those born from 1946-1964 in the U.S. -- behave differently from other generations as consumers and in the workplace. The series also explores how the aging of the baby-boom generation will affect politics and well-being.

For banks, baby boomers stand out among generations as highly attractive and lucrative customers.

Fully half of baby boomers report over $100,000 in investable personal assets, compared with 37% of Generation Xers and 14% of millennials. Nearly one in five boomers are even more well off, with over half a million dollars in investable assets, and 37% report having more than $50,000 in deposits at their banks. What makes boomers particularly valuable as customers is that they're actively borrowing, spending and investing their wealth, which means they're looking for financial services that meet their needs.

But baby boomers are challenging customers for banks because they tend to invest their assets in many different financial institutions. Among boomers with mortgages, for example, nearly four in 10 (38%) say they have mortgages with the same institution that handles their primary banking; slightly more than two in 10 boomers with investment accounts (21%) say they use their primary bank for investment services. The upshot is that when it comes to investing their wealth, the vast majority of boomers aren't working with their primary bank.

Just One in Three Boomers Are Fully Engaged With Their Bank

Banks would have much to gain if they could convince baby boomers to consolidate their accounts with them. Gallup's study of customer engagement among boomers, though, suggests that banks must overcome considerable customer indifference if they want to capitalize on these relationships. Not all boomers hate their banks; one in three are fully engaged with their primary banking provider. But two in 10 are actively disengaged, and nearly half (46%) are indifferent toward their primary financial institution.

Banks that overcome this challenge and engage their boomer customers can reap substantial benefits, Gallup's analysis shows. Boomers who are fully engaged with their primary bank tend to do more business with this institution. They have a higher percentage of their deposits with their primary bank than with other institutions compared with their actively disengaged counterparts, and they have almost twice the share of investable assets with their primary bank compared with actively disengaged boomers. Fully engaged boomers are 50% more likely to say they have their mortgage and twice as likely to say they have an investment account with their primary bank.

To win more business with baby boomers, banks must resist the temptation to simply sink money into costly technology or short-term promotions. These tactics may temporarily woo new customers, but they're unlikely to foster a long-term emotional connection. Instead, banks must emotionally engage their boomer customers -- an approach more likely to gain customers who will stick around, recommend the bank to their family and friends and consolidate their high-value services there. These customers are also more likely to respond to cross-sell efforts, use additional products and build up their balances.

What Banks Can Do to Engage Boomers

Engaging customers is a proven strategy banks can use to differentiate themselves in the marketplace and attract more high-value accounts, but to get there, most will need to rethink their approach. Here are some tactics banks can use to win new boomer customers and score more business from existing ones:

  • Meet baby boomers where they are at in life. Banks should consider how to meet boomers' banking needs, whether that's by providing new and easier ways to pay bills or offering simpler ways to manage spending and retirement funds.
  • Devise a top-notch complaint-resolution system. Customer engagement can quickly sour when banks manage customer problems and gripes poorly. But when banks handle problems well, engagement levels soar. Four times as many actively disengaged boomers (28%) report having a problem with their bank in the last six months than those who are fully engaged (7%). And eight in 10 fully engaged boomers are satisfied with how their bank handles problems, compared with just 6% who are actively disengaged.
  • Manage the everyday branch experience. Managing the day-to-day branch experience for baby boomer customers is vital to engagement, particularly because boomers tend to use branches more often than their younger counterparts do. About eight in 10 baby boomers have used a branch in the last six months (81%), and more than four in 10 visit a branch at least once a month or more often (44%). These visits can give branches opportunities to engage their boomer customers, but to do so, they must manage wait times and train tellers and managers to provide consistently engaging interactions.
  • Integrate every channel for seamless service. Boomers report that they are less likely to use self-service channels like online and mobile banking and ATMs than tech-savvy Generation Xers or millennials. Still, banks must provide an engaging experience across every service channel. Gallup's analysis shows that fully engaged boomers are satisfied with 90% of their interactions with their primary bank across all channels, while actively disengaged boomers are satisfied with 25% of these interactions. Banks must be sure there are no service hiccups that could frustrate customers as they move from one channel to another because problems with one area of service can damage a customer's overall engagement.
  • Launch a highly visible financial well-being program. About seven in 10 fully engaged boomer customers say that their primary bank looks out for their financial well-being -- but no actively disengaged boomers in this study say the same. If all customers felt their bank cared about their financial well-being, banks could dramatically decrease their percentage of actively disengaged customers. Right now, 27% of boomer customers say their primary bank looks out for their financial well-being, which offers a tremendous growth opportunity for financial institutions.

Almost two-thirds of baby boomer customers overall tell Gallup that they're likely to continue doing business with their primary bank, a much higher overall percentage than among Generation Xers (53%) or millennials (54%). Though this is encouraging news, engaging customers could boost that percentage significantly: Gallup analysis shows that nine out of 10 fully engaged customers would continue doing business with their primary bank. In stark contrast, that percentage plummets to less than two in 10 among actively disengaged customers, reinforcing just how essential engagement is in building and maintaining lasting customer relationships.

Fully engaged customers have more products with their primary banks. For this reason, banks that successfully engage their baby boomer customers will win their hearts and more of their banking business.


Sean Williams, Ph.D., is a Senior Practice Consultant at Gallup.

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