By 2050, the world will have more than two billion people over the age of 60.116 Many have money: in the UK, the over-50s account for almost half of all consumer spending and ONS figures reveal that more than one in ten pensioners have a total wealth of £1 million or more.117

But the ‘grey pound’ is far from evenly spread: the richest quarter of pensioners earn three to four times more than the bottom quartile.118 Inequality and lack of understanding are causes of concern. In financial services – a regulated, essential and often complex industry to navigate – this presents particular challenges that increasingly need to be addressed.

‘Older people’ – itself not the most inspiring descriptor – cannot be treated as one-size-fits-all. In consumer research, it no longer makes sense (if it ever did) to cap a survey at age 65, or to lump all those aged 65+ together for analysis. Why would it be sensible to group 65-year-olds with 85-year-olds? After all, we wouldn’t dream of grouping 25-year-olds with 45-year-olds. When it comes to older people, therefore, it makes sense for brands to take a more nuanced view. There are big differences to be found – in wealth, health, attitudes, channel usage and access.

The digital divide

While it is often assumed that young people want to do everything digitally and older people are still mainly offline, this is increasingly untrue. While digital adoption is more prevalent among the young, 75% of 55-to-69-year-olds in the UK own a smartphone and 73% own a computer. This does then dip to 43% of people over 70 owning a smartphone and 62% a computer.119 Many consumers use financial digital services and there are signs that digital will enable better financial management, with 66% of Britons agreeing that a Pensions Dashboard would make keeping track of their pensions easier.120
However, only 40% of 55-to-69-year-olds in the UK use online banking, and this drops to just 26% of those aged 70+. Many of these older people will have not only a preference but a need for banking in-branch. Some may face isolation, being cut off from services. If the digital advance results in further branch closures, many will face continued difficulties accessing cash and a declining personal service. Financial organisations have to keep this in mind.

The gender divide in pensions

On top of this, gender inequality is fuelling inequality in later life. As mentioned in Jessica and Stephanie’s earlier article, there is a gender pension gap. In the UK, the average pension wealth of a woman of retirement age is around £35,700 – about a fifth of that of a man the same age.121

Vulnerability

While there is a need to move away from the stereotypical ‘grey pensioner’ which can be patronising and harmful, as we age, we are likely to face increasing health concerns which may stop us working and reduce our independence.

Some 60% of those aged 65+ in the UK show characteristics of potential vulnerability,122 and being ‘older old’ (over 80) correlates with physical or mental impairment. One million people in the UK will have dementia by 2025, and this is predicted to increase to two million by 2050.123

Financial providers need to do more to support these customers and be flexible with families who may be caring for them and may need access to accounts.

No grey areas

Ultimately, it’s time we stopped lumping older customers together into one ‘mass’. Catering to older customers should be part of any brand’s long-term strategy. With an ageing population, despite advances in digital services, it is empathy and the care provided to those most vulnerable in society that, in the end, may separate the excellent from the merely average.