That direct access to ING's leadership is just one example of how the company is trying to be “very customer-centric,” says Cathy MacFarlane, head of corporate relations. And that level of interaction or assistance has gone a long way in helping ING Direct reassure customers, particularly boomers, who MacFarlane says are concerned about a range of issues, including investments, credit worthiness, and mortgages. She adds that messaging is about saving and then diversifying.
“Boomers need to... take steps to ensure financial prosperity,” she adds. “Many are putting more money into savings or investments than they were previously. They're more sensitive about their spending. We're also encouraging them to instill financial literacy in their children.”
MacFarlane notes that ING Direct doesn't segment or target by age group, but about 25% of its 7.3 million customers are boomers. The bank primarily does business online and by phone, but it has “cafes” where customers can interact in person with employees, including Kuhlmann, who visits often. The Web site, newsletters, and contests are also important communications vehicles.
“We the Savers,” a current promotion, is “a declaration of financial independence” and largely geared toward boomers, MacFarlane explains. The declaration can be passed around on Facebook and Twitter, and the overall initiative includes a Web site with savings tips and a forum where customers can share ways that they find to save money.
Retirement is another top-of-mind issue for boomers. Transamerica Retirement Management offers SecurePath, a service focused on this audience. CMO Will Prest says call volume is “way up,” noting that customers have lost confidence and are uncertain about what to do.
“We're [advocating] a back-to-basics mentality,” he adds. “If you're a retiree, the world has changed and assumptions need to be adjusted.”
The company advises customers to live within their means; to continue to contribute to their retirement funds; to look at their plans and make adjustments if necessary; to diversify; and to eliminate debt or work on a plan to do so. In addition to one-on-one calls, Prest notes that messages are going out in newsletters, statement stuffers, and postcards. He's also reaching out to employers who offer the company's services to their staff to determine how to best communicate through established internal channels.
“People get caught up in emotions and buy and sell at the wrong time,” he notes. “We did a GSK Roper segmentation study a year ago... to find out what emotions [boomers experience] when [they] face risk. [Results revealed] four distinctive personality types.”
This year, the company used the personality types uncovered by the study – “venturer,” “adapter,” “anchored,” and “pursuer” – to develop a quiz that helps customers understand how they think in times of stress. The idea is to help them better manage their behavior when making financial decisions in these tenuous financial times.
“[The quiz] helps us connect better,” Prest says. “We've gotten a lot out of it. You don't want to paint everybody with the same... brush.”
The company's Web site is also an important communications tool, which Prest notes is “educational in nature and ‘lifestylistic' in approach.” Content focuses on topics such as financial literacy, creative ways to think about housing, and second careers. It also includes more than 20 videos on such topics as second careers, Social Security, and life planning.
Jennifer Prosek, managing partner at CJP Communications, notes that online communication is becoming increasingly important for all types of financial services companies.
“We've counseled clients to use all vehicles and be as open and transparent as possible,” she says. “The use of video and online strategies gives individual investors a way to judge credibility and authenticity in a more holistic way.
“Trust is big right now,” Prosek adds. “Clients are looking to communicate actively and openly with boomers, [who are] looking for advice and counsel from someone they trust and find credible. They have to make serious choices.”
Prosek notes that clients such as investment firm Edward Jones and World Gold Council know that boomers are “reticent about getting into the market” and are reevaluating retirement goals, work plans, and lifestyles.
Edward Jones has 10,000 offices in the US, and Prosek says it has always had a “hyper-local strategy.” It's staying that course, she adds, with local PR and media outreach.
“During these uncertain times, Edward Jones' clients need to hear from leadership,” she explains. “Managing partner Jim Weddle [recently] completed a major media tour to encourage an open dialogue. It's a good sign that they're going out there.”
Open and direct communication with customers about financial challenges and solutions will continue at ING Direct as well.
“Everything we do in relationship to customer communications is a means to empowering them to control their financial destiny,” MacFarlane says. “We're always striving to give customers hope, inspiration, and the practical tools they need to achieve financial security.”
Financial messages for boomers
- Live within your means and keep saving
- Identify the safest places to invest right now
- Eliminate debt or work on a plan to do so
- Consult financial advisers and adjust plans as needed