> Posted by Susy Cheston and Sonja E. Kelly, CFI

2652377697_7cd2f08d4e_oAging is an issue that we all hope to face personally, if we haven’t already. As we prepare to participate in European Microfinance Week, we are more convinced than ever that this is a critical topic for the financial inclusion community to address. (If you are planning to be at European Microfinance Week too, make sure to check out our panel on the Sustainable Development Goals and financial inclusion!) In Europe, the aging of the population is well acknowledged. With average life expectancy in Europe among the highest in the world, at 77 years, the proportion of the population reaching older age is naturally growing. About 25 percent of Europe’s population is now over the age of 60, and that percentage is set to rise. The aging of the population is well understood in Europe, but what is less recognized is that the middle and lower-middle income countries of the world – the countries that encompass most of the world’s population – are already beginning to experience the same older age population boom. In most middle income countries, from Mexico to China, over-60s are the fastest growing cohort of the population. Aging is a product of successful development. Increased life expectancy, better family planning mechanisms, and higher quality of life all contribute to growth in the proportion of the population that is older.

Aging is a reality, but can it also represent an opportunity for financial institutions? The smart money is on providers who recognize that the answer is yes, and work to figure out how to respond.

We’ve created a list of activities, some practical and some research-oriented, we think would be valuable to close the gaps in financial inclusion for older people and for younger people who want to prepare for their older age. And, frankly, we would love for you to steal these ideas!

Develop a toolkit for becoming an age-friendly institution. We hear of a few financial institutions—from MFIs to commercial banks—that are using age as a lens through which to segment product offerings. From long-term savings products for people in their primary working years to credit designed for older people, being age-friendly across the life course allows a focus on life transitions and the diverse financial needs that accompany them. Case studies and toolkits would help financial institutions follow proven approaches. As part of becoming an age-friendly institution, there are a few starting points that would make a big impact:

Age-proof channels and technology. Financial institutions recognize that new technology, new channels, and new products must be built with the user experience in mind. There are existing vehicles for testing channels and technology to ensure that they work for older people. As part of vetting channels and technology, financial institutions can leverage older persons’ associations, assuring the technology’s validity for later life.

Ensure that staff members are not discriminating based on age. Financial institutions and support organizations can test the customer experience through mystery shopping in order to better understand how people of different ages are treated when they walk into a branch. An exercise like this could inform market-specific training modules to dispel myths about aging for staff of financial institutions.

Use existing data to create better products. Financial institutions have a wealth of data on clients that goes unused, and age is one data point that is collected because of the way that AML/CFT laws are translated into institutional policy. Financial institutions can use the data they have on clients to better understand how age influences client behavior. From this data, financial institutions have the opportunity to create better products to serve people across their life cycle, and especially into their older age.

Enhance financial security in older age by leveraging G2P and P2G early on. The shift toward electronic government-to-person and person-to-government payments presents an opportunity for creating “on-ramps” to inclusion. Leveraging these products could include automatically diverting funds sent through electronic channels to help people save funds for older age (which is already happening in many parts of the world) or using electronic G2P payments that go to older people as collateral for loans (older people are often seen as higher risk). Financial institutions which provide the accounts through which electronic payments are channeled have the positioning to capitalize on this opportunity.

Raise or eliminate age caps on credit and insurance. Over half of the institutions we surveyed earlier this year reported that they impose upper age restrictions on their products. Many age caps at microfinance institutions are based on outdated actuarial tables, and are ripe for being challenged or creatively eliminated. Many people who are older may be willing to pay more for credit. And financial institutions could find highly receptive clients if they responsibly raise age caps on credit products. A dedicated loan guarantee fund could help mitigate perceived risk during a pilot phase, accompanied with careful performance monitoring to provide more data about actual risks of lending to older adults.

Enable people to save for their older age. Pension systems were designed for a largely formal labor force, and the current reality of the size of informal markets does not match the intention of pensions systems. More progressive governments have begun to reform their pension systems to account for the more informal labor force, by creating alternative channels for contributions at places like corner stores and through mobile phones. Financial institutions can also play a role, either serving as channels to collect funds for the pension system or by setting up independent long-term savings programs that promise a competitive interest rate.

We are confident that there are a hundred more ideas that are just as good (or better). More importantly, though, we look forward to seeing a world in which age is not a barrier to people having access to a full range of quality financial services.

If you end up stealing one of these ideas, or if you’re already doing something to advance industry thinking on aging, let us know—we would love to champion your work.

Image credit: World Bank

Have you read?

Moving to Action on Aging and Financial Inclusion

Aging and Financial Inclusion: An Opportunity

Aging and Financial Inclusion: A Client Protection Issue?