Bank buildingAmericans may not always love their bank, but online banking is the most popular form of banking, according to a new survey by the American Bankers Association.

A spokesperson for the group called this a "watershed change," in case you want to note that somewhere.

A survey of 1,000 adults found that 25% of all bank customers under the age of 55 now prefer to do their banking online vs. the phone, mail or dropping by their local branch. That's the highest number recorded since they started asking the question.The landmark part is that bank consumers up to age 55 have adopted online banking as their preferred way of banking. For years, banks expected the 20-something crowd to enjoy online banking, but the stereotype of the middle-aged folks being confused by the Internet is long gone, which is something my 60-something parents could have told them. Heck, in the 1990s, when I was in my 20s, and my father was in his 50s, he had an Internet connection before I did, probably because he had the money, and the interest in technology, to jump on it the moment surfing the web started to go into the mainstream.

Not surprisingly, those older than 55 still prefer doing things the old-fashioned way -- 26% of those 55 years old and over said their first choice would be to visit their local branch instead of wandering around on their bank's online site. And I suppose it's likely that some of the older people surveyed have never been online, although one can't make that judgment, given that I've seen articles about people over 100 using Twitter.

Most interesting might be that mobile banking so far hasn't exactly caught on. Just 1% of the people, mostly the 18-34 year-old crowd, prefer doing their banking on a cell phone or PDA.

And ATMs? Less popular among all age groups.

So what does any of this mean? Well, Doug Johnson, vice president of risk management policy at the American Bankers Association told Bank Investment Consultant that "the challenge is that banks will see their customers on a less-frequent basis." That means they'll have to work harder with their customer service, he says. And that could be good for you and me.

But online banking could help the banks with customer service, too, Johnson said. As the public continually goes online, "banks can track how individual clients traverse the site, what products they look at, and they can use that information to talk to clients about their express interests."

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