The silver lining of banking services

In an age when so much banking is done online and requires computer savvy,  what can banks do to better serve their increasing older generation clients? 

Standing in a long bank queue to withdraw money can be very hard on wobbly, old legs. Forgetting to bring along reading glasses makes it difficult to figure out which button to push on the machine that provides queue tickets. And where’s the nearest bathroom anyway?

For elderly residents, especially those who can’t manage online banking, handling personal finances can be an ordeal. Many banks are addressing the problem with services especially tailored to the needs of the older generation.

Wang Junjuan, a 72-year-old Shanghai resident, said she has been very impressed by the considerate services in the south Shaanxi Road sub-branch of the Bank of Communications, China’s fifth largest state-owned commercial lender by assets.

“On one occasion, I had to go to the toilet in a hurry,” she said. “A bank clerk guided me to the staff bathroom, and I was surprised to see the toilets had arm rests. Banks generally do not let customers to use their internal restrooms, let alone have facilities designed for old people.”

Even more impressive than the restroom to Wang is the array of other items made available to the elderly in the bank, including a paper shredder, umbrellas, folding wheelchairs, paper clips, a currency calculator, bandages and even essential balm.

“We pay great attention to detail,” Gu Ye, president of the sub-branch, proudly told Shanghai Daily.

The sub-branch is located in the busy district of Huangpu, surrounded by a cluster of high-rise residential buildings that house many retirees.

China’s population is aging and the needs of the older generation are coming under increasing scrutiny. The number of people 60 years and older reached 241 million at the end of last year, with a record annual 10 million people joining the “silver club”.

In 2017, that older generation comprised 17 percent of China’s population. By 2025, that ratio is expected to hit about 35 percent.

Older people come from a generation prone to saving and proverbially comfortable stashing money under a mattress. Though most do use banks nowadays, modern finance can be confusing, especially in an age when so much is done online and requires computer savvy.

Gu at the Shaanxi bank outlet said around one third of his customers are 60 years or older. The aim is to make banking an easy, pleasant experience for them, he said.

Hearing aids, reading glasses and sugar-free drinks are offered at a special counter dedicated to older customers, who can enjoy privileged services for one hour in the morning and one hour in the afternoon.

Inside the bank are brochures and a scrolling electronic screen advising the elderly to beware of financial scams. There’s even a special room where bank personnel can discuss fraud with emotional older customers.

Among those who have been taken in by dubious investment deals, Wang said she was once coaxed into buying bonds by the sales pitch at another bank. She lost money on the deal and transferred her business to Bank of Communications.

Staff there try to build trust with the elderly on a personal level. Lu Sen, a client manager at the Shaanxi sub-branch, told Shanghai Daily that it’s important to listen to what customers like Wang have to say.

“I want to understand her needs instead of just selling products to her,” Lu said.

Lu learned that Wang was planning to take courses at a school for the aged and that she likes to play Douyin, a popular short-video application in China. Lu has been giving Wang advice on how to do financial planning for her grandson, who is studying in Japan.

Song Yiyun, 27, is a “five-star” client manager at the bank with a black belt in karate.

Though he is a tough guy on the mat, Song is described by colleagues as “professional and patient” with elderly customers. He often helps them up and down the steps at the front of the sub-branch.

 “I treat aged clients just like my grandpa or grandma, which means doing my best to provide services,” Song told Shanghai Daily.

Sometimes those clients ask his advice on home repairs or Internet access. For those who are physically unable to come to the bank branch, home assistance is provided.

 Last winter, one elderly customer who was bedridden couldn’t remember his bank account password. Song and a colleague went to his home to arrange a new password.

An 82-year-old retiree surnamed Chen has been banking with the Shaanxi outlet for almost 10 years. He praises the services of the team there.

“Unlike security staff at other banks who can intimidate a customer, the security men at the sub-branch are warm and friendly,” he said.

Chen, who declined to be identified by his full name, often transfers money to his children living abroad, and he welcomes the efforts of bank staff to ensure that his savings thrive. He said client manager Song once explained to him in simple language what the “household leverage ratio” means.

“Professional proficiency and work ethics are what I value most,” he said. “We elderly tend to be anxious and lack self-confidence. We are afraid of making mistakes while doing the transactions by phone or online due to bad eyesight. So as long as we can walk, we prefer to go to a branch and talk face-to-face with the bank staff.”

 Bank of Communications is not alone in addressing the special needs of the older generation. Shanghai Pudong Development Bank has developed senior-friendly facilities, including wheelchair accessible passageways and emergency pagers.

 The An Ting branch of the Agricultural Bank of China, upon learning that a centenarian had lost her passbook, worked with the local public security bureau to resolve the problem.

 The Shanghai branch of the Industrial Bank, a joint-stake commercial lender, has set aside an exclusive hotline to deal with concerns and complaints from elderly customers.

And at Bank of China, senior citizens, sanitation workers and traffic police have access to hot ginger tea, heaters and chargers in the “warm corner” of Shanghai branches.