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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – It’s the year 2025 and you walk into a credit union. You’re struck by some important changes. The credit union is actually part of a stadium and dining complex. The tellers look older. So do the members. There’s someone applying for a student loan – but he’s 60 years old and explains he’s going back to school. Welcome, the experts say, to a population shift that is going to take place in the next quarter century. In its recent Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Issue, American Demographics magazine interviewed demographic and marketing specialists to see what the next 25 years will bring. It also worked with MapQuest, a market research firm in Troy, N.Y., to project population changes over the next 25 years. While there’s been a lot of talk about an aging America, the results astounded even many of the authorities. Here are some of the key findings: * Americans 60 and over will dominate. The number in the 60-64 age bracket will increase 74.5%, in the 65-69 ranks; 108.1%, 70-74, 101.8%; and 75-79, 89.2% * At the same time, the percentage of young people will grow much more slowly. There will only be 16% more 15-19 year olds, 18.5% more 20-24 year olds, and 9.7% more aged 25-29. American Demographics put it this way: “The biggest growth market, by far, will be the 65 and older set. In 2000, this group included 35 million people, about 12% of the population. By 2025, as Baby Boomers age and life expectancy continues to increase, the number of seniors will double, to more than 70 million people.” At the same time, the percentage of non-Hispanic whites in the population will drop from the current 70% to 60%. Credit Union Times contacted some of the experts interviewed by American Demographics to find out how all this will impact credit unions as both marketers and employers. Rob Duboff is senior vice president of Bowne Decision Quest, Waltham, Mass. “Generally, anybody would look at the data and say, `Well, we ought to go after those 60-year-olds and 65-year-olds,” Duboff says. “What I try to point out is I think it shakes out a little differently. If I have never used a credit union, it’s a little hard to grab my money from Citibank or Merrill Lynch or people I’m used to using. “It’s obviously a gross generalization, but one thing that generally happens as we age is we’re a little more conservative about trying new things. Continue trying to get younger people to understand the virtues of a credit union,” he says. It would be smart to do everything possible to retain current members and get a bigger share of their wallets, he continues. At the same time, review your product mix to make certain it’s appropriate for older members. Are you doing enough market research? Are you doing it in a way that is sensitive to age cohorts? Do your printed communications use large type? Do you offer a choice of both high-touch and high-tech access? Is your phone center prepared to work with members whose hearing isn’t as acute as it once was? Are your facilities easily accessible to someone whose knees may be a little stiff or who uses a walker? Are there comfortable chairs handy for someone who may not be able to stand for a long time? Duboff suggests maybe the credit union can partner with a business that allows the physical credit union branch to also house an entertainment center such as a movie complex, a stadium or a restaurant that draws people who want to enjoy themselves while also taking care of their banking business. Richard Laermer, marketing expert at RLM Public Relations in New York and author of Trendspotting, says the challenge to businesses is to create a multigenerational brand that is ageless. “People didn’t think that way 10 years ago,” Laermer says. “Mature people are much more important than ever. It’s kind of like the eastern philosophy (of respect for the elderly) is coming to the west. “One statistic in the (American Demographics) article we were all amazed by is the U.S. having twice as many seniors in 2025. That’s huge. That says that anybody looking into the future has to think about what age means. You’re not a senior citizen at 60 any more. You’re a college student at 60. That’s when I intend to go back to school,” he says. “Diversity is about understanding what the mainstream is. The growth in the Latino market is proving mainstream doesn’t mean what it did even five years ago. Imagine the number of Asians doubling. That is a brand new statistic. People are going to have to look at how they market, and they can’t be ageist about it,” Laermer adds. Most credit unions are keenly aware their older members are the ones who have accumulated some money and have relatively large deposits. But will they be borrowers? Laermer thinks they will. The make-it-do, wear-it-out, save-for-a-rainy-day philosophy of the Depression generation is disappearing, he states. Today’s retirees are eager to do things. They’re willing to spend money on themselves. They want to live their lives now. They focus not so much on staying alive as being alive. That’s where borrowing comes in. Your employees as well as your members are going to change, he continues. He cites McDonalds as an example. “Most of their training now involves older people who decided to retire and didn’t like it. They say they’d much rather hire those people. Older workers understand the responsibility that goes with the job,” Laermer says. “As an employer I can tell you the 90s were a frustrating period because the people we hired had a sense of entitlement. They thought we were exaggerating about any downturn because they’d never seen one. Older people always knew things are cyclical.” Actually, Rob Frankel says, marketers need to replace demographics with psychographics. He’s a branding expert based in Los Angeles and author of Revenge of Brand X. Just as ethnicity varies, so do values, attitudes and lifestyles, Frankel emphasizes. He warns it’s inefficient and ineffective to ignore those cultural differences when reaching out beyond the traditional focus on white America. You’ve also got to know your own territory, he adds. “Things that fly here in Los Angeles and Hollywood just aren’t going to make it inside the Washington, D.C., beltway,” Frankel says. He sees credit unions enjoying some advantages as the nation ages. “It has been a very hard sell to get younger kids to save for their future. It’s not at all difficult to get older people to protect what they’ve got,” he says. Many credit union CEOs say they’re delighted when they pick up the local business page and learn a major regional bank has acquired a local bank. They’ve found such acquisitions often bring in new members tired of watching the name on their nearest bank branch constantly change. Frankel isn’t surprised. “I’m sure you know there has been a fairly large aggregation in banking. I think people are going to opt out of that. A smart credit union will pursue personal service, customer relations and community networking. There’s a huge niche there that is not being filled,” Frankel says. Maddy Dychwald is senior vice president and co-founder of Age Wave in Orinda, Calif. It’s a consulting group focused on boomers and the mature market. She’s also author of Cycles: How We Will Live, Work and Buy. “Boomers are not their parents old,” Dychwald declares. “They want to bring their youth with them into their middle and later years of life. I call them age scouts. They’re really pioneers creating a new second half of life. “They’re working far longer than their parents or grandparents. The Department of Labor has put out a study that projects by 2005, just around the corner, if we don’t begin employing older adults – defined as those over the age of 55 – our ability to remain competitive and our productivity levels will actually go down.” In fact, a significant shift is already happening. The Census Bureau reports the number of Americans working beyond age 65 soared almost 50% between 1980 and 2002. That meant 13.2% of all seniors were working or at least searching for work in 2002. For credit unions as employers, this translates into a need to bring in and retain mature workers. They may be workers who will happily move from side to side, rather than up the job ladder. They will want training, positive feedback, opportunities to employ their skills, and flexibility. “Age no longer defines us,” Dychwald says. “We’re going to cycle in and out of various lifecycle events. Don’t judge members by their age.” -

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