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Posted 08/02/2021

Digital Money for Seniors - A guide on adjusting to the digital future of banking

Digital Money for Seniors - A guide on adjusting to the digital future of banking

by Anelda Knoesen

In the last year or so, we’ve all benefited from being able to go online. The internet has kept us entertained and connected. During the times we couldn’t get out and socialise, it was a lifeline.

But what about people who aren’t as used to being online?

It’s no secret that some seniors can struggle to get used to new technology. Age continues to be one of the main factors in digital exclusion, with many seniors feeling left behind by the technological tide. Due to the pace of change, it’s hardly surprising. Take contactless card payments, for example. Its adoption for lower value purchases is now widespread, including on the London Underground.

Why digital inclusion is so important

The rapid move towards online services means older people risk being isolated from banking – amongst other things – if they don’t adjust to a digital future. An Age UK study busted the myth that as a result of COVID-19 ‘everyone’ was now online, confirming that more than 42% of over 75s still weren’t using the internet. That’s nearly two million people in this age group in England digitally excluded in a COVID-19 world and beyond.

Age UK revealed some more detail in the study that it would seem there is both an increase and decline in internet use. Once older people start to arrive online, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are going to stay.

Digital money and the elderly

Banking is one of the areas reluctant internet users may feel the most uncomfortable with. After all, it’s their money we’re talking about. They may have embraced or become more familiar with video calling or streaming TV, but still prefer to go into a branch for banking tasks – despite banks urging customers to use online channels during the coronavirus outbreak.

Age-friendly banking

So, what’s the answer? Age UK defines age-friendly banking as “banking products, services and facilities that remain accessible and easy-to-use as people age, assist caregivers and prevent financial exploitation.” Although there seems to be this big rush to get online, it’s not an adjustment many older people will be comfortable with (or potentially ever make), so services have to be designed with that in mind.

According to Age UK, creating an age-friendly bank is all about:

  • Customer service. Older people have specific needs, so staff need to be trained to recognise them and respond appropriately.

  • Physical design. Branches need to be accessible, and if they’re not available at all then suitable arrangements should be made. All interfaces a customer could interact with (ATMs, phones, computers, tablets, mobiles) need to be accessible for people with a diverse range of abilities. Age-friendly banks should also make their accessibility options known to all customers, not just those who ask. 

  • Systems. All systems – whether online, in a branch or on the phone – should reliably meet the needs of older people. This could mean offering a range of access channels. 

  • Products. Financial products should be designed to fit people who are later in life, rather than excluding them. 

  • How a bank sees itself. The more a bank sees itself as responsible for all its users and stakeholders, the more likely it is to adopt practices and design services that are friendly to the older generation.

The main challenges for seniors

Here are some of the main challenges for seniors trying to access online banking:

  • A lack of digital skills and confidence online. Younger people tend to have greater resilience in coping when things go wrong online or are poorly designed.

  • The costs. To get online, you not only need to pay for an internet connection – you also need a computer, laptop or tablet. The income of older people, especially pensioners, may be less than what they had in their earlier working years. It might not feel worth it.

  • Availability of services. If people don’t want (or cannot afford) to have an internet connection at home, they might be able to access free computers and WiFi at places like cafes, libraries, and other local centres. But this would’ve been heavily restricted throughout the pandemic, and free services aren’t widespread.    

  • Physical challenges. Physical disabilities, including deterioration of sight and hearing, or arthritis in the hands, can make it much harder to use devices.

  • Cognitive decline. As people get older, certain cognitive tasks may become a bit more challenging. For example, banking often requires you to remember numerous passwords or security codes, and call centres often rely on automated menus which can be tricky to navigate – especially when you’re under stress.

  • Disinterest in going online. Not everyone is interested in going online. And that’s OK.

  • Preference for in-person interactions. There are multiple ways that people can access their bank accounts and banking services. People could use a mix of channels (mobile or desktop apps, online, over the phone, in branch) depending on their needs, but they may always prefer to talk to someone in person in a branch. In these cases, the closure of branches is particularly problematic.

  • Fear. We hear a lot of negative things about the internet – fake news, online fraud, and so on. If it’s not something you’re familiar with, it can feel like quite a daunting prospect – and one where you might be taken advantage of.

  • Financial exploitation. Indeed, it’s true that older people are often targeted. It’s a challenge to keep them protected online, as they’re not only singled out in the hopes they’ve built up a lifetime of savings, but because they can be more vulnerable.

Initiatives from the financial industry

Regardless of age, health, or economic circumstance, everyone should be able to bank safely in a way that suits their needs.

More than anything, though, the benefits of addressing common challenges of online banking for older individuals – including a lack of confidence, usability issues and limited or inaccessible functionalities – will end up optimising the digital experience for all users.


The idea that you shouldn’t have to show someone how to use technology, that it should be intuitive, is flawed. Teaching and supporting older people is one of the best ways to help them embrace new technologies. There are numerous initiatives and programmes within the industry, aimed at improving people’s digital skills and confidence, including:

Mobile banks

To make sure people can access banking services wherever they live – and regardless of their age, disability or any other vulnerability – mobile banks are a great alternative. With a fleet of vehicles that has been growing since 1946, RBS provides mobile branch banking to customers across the UK.

Security measures

Any improvements to security measures are welcomed by all customers, regardless of age. But there are specific campaigns to educate older customers – for example, the Financial Conduct Authority has run a communications campaign, ScamSmart, aimed at educating and warning older people against pension and investment fraud.

How you can support your elderly relatives

All too easily, we may assume older people are less digitally savvy, and mistrustful of digital channels. While many may need additional training or support to make the most of digital banking, it’s important to stress that people don’t always fit the box into which they’re placed. If you have elderly relatives or spend time with other older people, you may have experienced their frustration if they’ve ever felt patronised or misunderstood.

You can start by:

  • Asking them. We often make assumptions about what older people will want to do. But we shouldn’t just take it for granted that a whole group of people don’t want to get online. It all starts with a conversation – find out if they’re interested or what’s holding them back.

  • Talking about the benefits. Having an internet connection at home means you can connect with other people and get tasks done online.

  • Offering your help. Simply let people know you’re happy to help. It’s worth giving a certain time and being patient – it may take longer than you expect, so it’s important not to feel rushed.

  • Watching your wording. If you’re helping someone, think about the jargon you might use without thinking. Not everyone will know what you mean by an app, or understand how to swipe.

  • Researching devices or apps. It’s important to arm yourself with helpful information, such as what device would be easiest for an older person to use.

  • Sharing security tips. One of the most important things you can install is antivirus software. Let whoever you’re helping know this will help protect them from viruses and other internet threats, but do share some advice for keeping them safe online. 

For the full guide, please click here.

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