Banker Blues

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Gen Xers don't fear the Geritol years: More than any other generation, Gen X places a high importance on long-term financial planning, a new study shows. Nine out of ten Xers surveyed told the American Bankers Association that accumulating money for retirement and developing a financial plan are top goals in their life.

But they're not walking into their local bank for advice: 40 percent of Gen Xers believe banks aren't committed to meeting their financial needs (compared to 24 percent of those 65 and over) and just 45 percent agree that banks provide good value for their money. They aren't the only ones down on bank fees, according to the ABA study. In 1994, 83 percent of all consumers thought their bank was a good value; by 1999, that figure had plummeted to 46 percent. Overall, respondents in the study ranked banks fourth - behind financial planners, mutual fund firms, and stock brokers - in advising people on retirement.

Still, it's difficult to advise customers, or at the very least tell them about your services, when they prefer to visit the nearest ATM. Twenty-eight percent of people surveyed said the ATM was the method they used most often to bank. Not surprisingly, Gen Xers scored even higher: 44 percent preferred swiping their card to talking to a teller. Compared to other bank customers, ATM users also tend to be better educated, more affluent, and living in urban or suburban areas.

Now there may be a way to reach those lucrative ATMers without asking them to change their habits. Technology developed by Naviant Technology Solutions in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania, and Diebold Inc. in Canton, Ohio, can identify who's standing in front of a cash machine and activate a personalized message to send to them on the screen. Customer data stored at the bank, such as transaction history and existing accounts, would help tailor the promotion. "Say you're a good customer, but you bounce a check now and then," says C. Win Billingsley, vice president at Naviant. "An ad for overdraft protection would pop up on the screen while you wait for your transaction to process. You might press one key to sign up immediately, another to receive a brochure in the mail, or another to request a call from a representative." A simple application would be the cash machine automatically switching to Spanish when a Spanish-speaking person inserts his or her card.

There are a few drawbacks, however. For now, the technology will only work if a customer uses an ATM operated by their bank. And who knows whether consumers will go for it - aren't they bombarded with enough so-called personalized messages? While several clients are testing the service, Billingsley doesn't expect any full rollouts until the end of the year - just in time to promote Y2K insurance.

For more information about the American Bankers Association survey, call (202) 663-5000.

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