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USPS tries to scare Boomers away from online banking

January 31, 2012

The fight to capture Baby Boomer customers from online banking has taken to the airwaves, and although you don’t know at first who’s being attacked, it become obvious as you watch.

The defensive play is being done by the United States Postal System.  In a television ad, the USPS is taking aim at Boomers who use online banking.  The ad isn’t brazen enough to state that directly, but the message is loud and clear.

It begins with a solid middle-aged voice talking about security and identity theft. Viewers are watching middle-aged hands write and sign paper checks, then deposit them into a road side mailbox in front of a substantial home on a beautifully manicured subdivision street.

Soon the letters are loaded into a large mail truck and we watch them be delivered to another person.    The announcer is telling viewers if they want to be certain their bills are paid in a timely manner, without the risk of identity theft or computer crashes– they should use the mail service.  As the commercial ends, middle aged hands are filing the statements in paper files in a drawer while the announcer is talking about confidence and security of knowing bills are being paid.

I only saw the commercial once, so I may have it a little out of sequence, but the message was clear:  Use the USPS to be sure your checks are safe.  In addition, you’ll have paper receipts to file away and feel secure that your checks arrived on time.

Now I get it.  The USPS is losing money and needs to take dire measures to get customers to use its service.  But scaring Boomers and Senior Citizens away from using Internet banking is just wrong.  Feeding on unsubstantiated fears that bill payers won’t have the security of knowing their bills are paid unless there is a paper trail is outlandish.

Anyone who banks and/or pays their bills through online banking knows copies of bills are stored on line for years; as are the confirmation numbers of the actual payments.

Financial institutions are trying to trim costs as well; and we all know that online banking is one way to do that.  And we also know that once Boomers are on an online site, they will most likely make a purchase.

Why do I say these tactics are aimed at Boomers?  Because Boomers are the largest demographic in America, and many are still leery of using online banking sites.  And this USPS ad is playing on their fears.

Statistics show that Boomers spend 15 hours per week online and that nearly 80 % of Boomers spend more money on line than any other generation.  Some studies suggest Boomers spend three times as much money on line than any other demographic. According to eMarketer, the 116 million Boomers in the US (as of 2011) are a valuable target audiences to marketers.

Therefore, once financial companies get Boomers engaged in their site, on-site marketing is on fertile soil.

  • So now what?  Here are 6 ways for financial sites to capture Boomers and attempt to allay their fears:Make the site easy to read.  Use large point size, have lots of white space, and make the instructions easy.  Use big buttons.
  • Highlight the site’s security.  Talk about how it’s more secure than mail, which can be intercepted by a thief or dumped in the trash.  Combat the identity theft argument with facts. Have a Q & A about security—on the home page, not buried within the FAQs.
  • Stress convenience.  Bill paying made simple.  You can receive your bill on the site; schedule a payment, get email update reminders when bills are due, and confirmations when they are paid.  You can also pay at will.  I online bank with PNC and it has a terrific system.  It’s easy to use.  If I forget to pay a bill, it’s sent out the next day.  Not all banks offer such a great online banking site, but PNC is great.  (BTW-I have no affiliation with PNC, other than being a customer.)
  • Appeal to women.  Women, 50 + influence 80% of all buying decisions.  That figure includes selecting a doctor, health insurance, long-term care insurance, retirement accounts,  vacation spending and consumer products.
  • Market Boomers as a Multi-Generational cohort.  Boomers help their adult children and their aging parents make financial decisions.  They are shopping for three generations.  Examine their life stages.  Do they have kids?  How old are their kids? Do they live at home? Are they just starting out in life? Are their parents alive? Where do they live?  Are they in good health?  Understand Boomers and marketing to them will become easier.
  • Have excellent customer service.  Be sure a human representative is available during extended business hours to answer questions.  And if it’s outside of business hours, have an email address for questions, and BE SURE to answer the question within 24 hours.

Boomers should be the sweet spot of financial institutions online products.  They are have the time and money and are mobile and flexible—they just need to feel more comfortable.

Don’t let the USPS push Boomers backwards.  I understand its dilemma.  It needs more people sending letters and packages through the mail.  But if the financial institutions don’t take heed, they will be headed in reverse as well.

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