The trend towards early retirement, coupled with an increase in life expectancy have created a "marketing manager's dream" - a huge and wealthy consumer market.
Yet while industry "bombards" youth with products and advertising, it patronises the retired, lumping them all together as a single block and treating them as "backward children rather than intelligent adults", according to the market research organisation Mintel.
Most financial institutions actively market their products to people only until they retire, Charles Adriaenssens, Mintel's financial analyst, said. He criticised the industry for being "unimaginative" and failing to grasp the diversity and complexity of the retirement market.
The over-fifties own 80 per cent of Britain's private wealth, much of it in property, and by 2031 will make up 41 per cent of the population compared with 31 per cent in 1991.
Early retirement has become common during the last three years. A poll by Mintel of 1,800 adults found that 29 per cent of men and 22 per cent of women expect to retire before the age of 60. Among managerial and white- collar groups the proportion is higher, at 32 per cent.
However, retired people no longer conform to the stereotype of a "couple sitting on a park bench". According to Mintel's research, they vary widely in attitude, lifestyle and income. They "do not feel old" and many of them are not afraid of new ideas or technology. Increased life expectancy means that by 2001 the number of centenarians will treble, and it will double again by 2011. By 2020 the majority of voters in the EU will be over 50.
The fastest growing group will be those labelled the "super-old" in the United States - the over-eighties. Because of the recent Community Care Act, which limits state nursing care to those with assets of less than £8,000, many of these may need long-term care insurance policies. Yet only 10,000 have been sold in Britain and they are too often marketed through fear.Many younger retired people will still work part-time. Paul Hersey, Mintel's senior financial analyst, said they were an ideal market for the type of "aspirational advertising" encouraging them to "get out and enjoy themselves", now directed largely at younger people.Mr Hersey said someone who gave up full-time work in their fifties could have a retirement that lasted longer than their working life.
Many financial institutions will have to rethink policies, however. The survey says that more than two-thirds of the retired prefer to deal with people rather than machines or the telephone, so the trend towards automation could "backfire".
The report says retired people are unfairly treated in areas such as motor, travel and personal-accident insurance: premiums are higher or cover is removed. Among financial services suggested are inheritance-tax planning, generating income from property, illness insurance and school- fee schemes for grandchildren.
Marketing Financial Services to the Retired; Mintel, 18-19 Long Lane, London EC1; £895.