"You're dealing with people who want to stay engaged and involved," said Carol Orsborn, senior strategist with VibrantNation.com, a Louisville, Ky.-based Web site devoted to women over the age of 50. "Don't assume that retirement is a goal. Boomers highly value having freedom, and they hate red tape and things that seem useless."
Keeping-probably more so than courting-boomers tied to their credit unions and other financial institutions has become more science than art, Orsborn said. That's partly because they can be moving targets shifting in and out of what society expects of them and what they actually want for themselves. She's found that at some point during their lives, boomers have moved into three stages: core group, reactive and actualized.
In the core group stage, boomers adhere to belief systems that they were born into, Orsborn explained. They were born in the type of community where everyone goes to the same church and share the same beliefs as their parents. Their views tend to be more conservative, and they are more apt to listen to the voice of authority. They are also loyal to their institutions. Orsborn said boomers in this group are generally a minority. She's found that the higher the income and more educated a person is, they are more likely to move out of this stage.
"Most of us can be shaken out of our belief systems," said Orsborn, who has a doctorate degree from Vanderbilt University where she studied adult development and ritual studies, including intergenerational values formation and transmission. Orsborn has also worked with more than 100 companies such as Prudential, Visa, the AARP and American Insurance Group providing counsel on the baby boomer market.
Some boomers may also move into a reactive stage where there is a tendency to have a knee-jerk reaction. Here, anything they were taught to believe while growing up, is rebelled against, Orsborn said.
"If your mom used Tide, that would be the last thing you would use," she offered. "The last thing you want to do is appeal to the voice of authority."
Orsborn said boomers in this dominant group are all about personal empowerment. Unlike the reactive stage, the actualized stage is more of a "mellowing" phase. While the smallest amount of boomers float into this stage, Orsborn said their numbers are the fastest growing. Here, boomers are at a point where they are not reactive but are free to pick and choose.
"If someone rejected their religion, they may go back to it but look at it in a different way," Orsborn said.
For credit unions, it's important for them to stake their claim on boomers wherever they are in any of the stages. As an example, Orsborn said if credit unions are going to do one outreach to all stage groups, it might be best to stay away from strong motivational messages. "You're going to turn off one and turn on another," she warned.
Orsborn said during her presentations with financial institutions that she has noticed that most want to go after those with discretionary income. According to a November VibrantNation.com survey of 500 women ages 50 to 70, boomer women are becoming more resilient even as they worry they won't receive the same level of Social Security and Medicare benefits that their parents did. Sixty-seven percent said they trusted their financial advisers and institutions less than before the recession or never trusted them in the first place.
"Boomer women are in fact growing more resilient during hard times and their coping strategies and belief systems are reaching new levels of effectiveness in the face of challenge and change," said Stephen Reily, Vibrant Nation founder and CEO.
For the first time in their lives, some boomers are looking at financial provider alternatives. Orsborn said credit unions have an opening to court those in the reactive and actualized stages because loyalty to institutions is not as important. Three out of five boomers will try something new if there is a compelling reason to do so, she added.
To keep boomer members loyal, Orsborn suggested credit unions place strong value on personal interactions. They want the brick and mortar touch but also like an online option. Indeed, they are the "swing generation" between their parents who liked personal relationships and their kids who are all technology, all the time.
"They still want the lemonade and cookies," Orsborn said of boomers. "We may have to get them there by going online."
Marketing materials should show older people but not in stereotypical situations, she recommended. Older men, younger women imagery may not fly for some.
To woo potential new members, Orsborn said credit unions may want to make it clear that it is easy to join and that they have very competitive rates to offer on things like certificates of deposit. Boomers are extremely savvy bargain hunters, she noted. Credit unions should ensure that their Web sites prominently figure the best they have to offer so that boomers can quickly cross check their deals with others.
"One thing I've noticed is credit unions offer right down the center of what boomers say they want. Once they understand that joining is a low barrier of entry, this will work in a credit union's favor. Boomers are always trying to outsmart the system."
Some other quick characteristics: Boomers love to do their own research. They highly value word of mouth as a selling tool. And even though they are among the fastest growing groups on social media sites like Facebook (and online catalogs tout the group as their biggest audience), they are still major consumers of traditional media such as newspapers. Orsborn said as newspaper readership has fallen, it's the older readers that are hanging on to their subscriptions.
"When you say 'senior citizen,' it conjures up a certain image," Orsborn said. "It's thought they would be marginalized by choice, retire to the golf course, and they wouldn't be much of a force. They hit 60 or 65 and that would be the end of their development."
All of those images could not be further from the truth, Orsborn said. Credit unions and other institutions might consider meeting boomers where they are in their lives. What's appealing? An active online forum, a cool giveaway-anything to get members talking to each other about their wants and needs.
"The boomers want the basics. Good health, a roof over our head and security," Orsborn said. "Depending on where you live, your relationship to your religious community or how the financial meltdown has personally impacted you, it has made fear a big motivator. When people are scared, they go to extremes. People who are rational, want to do the research and want to become more educated on other choices."