By Linda Koco
Wells Fargo Advisors is training every employee on financial abuse of elders, according to a company executive who spoke at a wide-ranging forum on aging this week.
The computerized training is followed by a 10-question test, and those who don’t pass it must then take a 45-minute online training course on financial abuse, said Ron Long, who is vice president-regulatory affairs and elder client initiatives at the firm.
This training is among several steps that Wells has taken to spot potential financial abuse. The firm also runs a related centralized unit from its St. Louis headquarters, Long said. This unit takes calls from the field all over the country, the purpose being to help sort out issues related to potential financial abuse and diminished capacity, he said.
In addition, Wells has developed a trifold brochure on the subject for financial advisors to give to clients and to use as a springboard for discussion on the subject.
He made the comments during the fourth regional forum of the 2015 White House Conference on Aging. Conducted in Cleveland, the session was telecast live over the web. The daylong forum addressed several key issues affecting older Americans including not only financial matters but also issues such as housing and health care.
Long presented the Wells Fargo initiatives as an example of what one financial services company is doing to address potential financial abuse of elders.
He showed some pointers that his firm provides to employees to help them spot possible abuse. The pointers are not only for employees of Wells Fargo to use, he said, but also for other firms, “even the grocer and maybe the beautician.”
One of those pointers is to “be observant.” For instance, notice if the person is changing and how. Another is to wonder why. “Is the person making requests to have money sent to a country they never mentioned before?” he asked.
Negotiate: “The bad guys hate delay,” Long said. The extra time gained by negotiating could create enough time in which to contact a trusted family member, he explained.
Isolate: Get the senior away from someone who shows up unexpectedly. The idea is to talk with the senior privately to see what might be going on. The suggestion list offers ways to initiate that separation: “Ms. Smith, please step out with me to confirm some account information.” Or “Please come with me to discuss some confidential information.”
Tattle: Have a process where workers can raise their concerns and worries about what they are seeing, Long said.
Wells Fargo Advisors didn’t develop its initiatives in a vacuum. Long said the firm has an outreach program where it connects with others who are involved in combatting elder financial abuse.
This outreach includes visits to 22 adult protective service (APS) agencies across the country and also visits with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. He said the goal is learn more about challenges the agencies are seeing and to look at ways his firm might be able to help in the financial area.
Going forward, Long said he would like to see the development of “privacy safe harbors,” so that firms can call, say, family members if concerns develop about a person. He would also like to see firms be able to decline or delay a transaction, say for 10 days, “so we can look behind the music,” in situations where potential abuse might be a concern.
Reporting of abuse
Richard Cordray, the first director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), took on a related issue, having to do with whether a financial institution can report suspected financial abuse to authorities.
Confusion exists about whether federal law permits financial institutions to “report suspected abuse to the appropriate authorities without first informing the consumer and providing an opportunity to opt out,” noted Cordray, who keynoted the financial abuse segment of the forum.
Created by the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010, the CFPB supervises more than 100 very large banks as well as thousands of non-bank providers such as mortgage lenders, mortgage servicers, payday lenders, consumer reporting agencies, debt collectors, and money services companies.
In 2013, the CFPB, along with several other federal financial regulators, developed guidance to clarify the reporting issue, Cordray said. The guidance says that, as a general matter, financial institutions “can and should report suspected financial abuse that victimizes older Americans to all appropriate authorities.”
Financial institutions are well positioned to prevent such fraud, he contended, because many older consumers make frequent use of traditional bank and credit union branches. As a result, they are known by the tellers, who can often spot “irregular transactions, abnormal account activity, or unusual behavior that signals financial abuse.”
The CFPB is encouraging all financial services providers to focus on the Three Rs, he said. These are: “recognize, record, and report.”
Older Americans are often “prey” to financial exploiters, because seniors often have higher household wealth, may develop impaired capacity, and can be isolated and vulnerable, the agency director noted. In fact, he said, financial exploitation is the most common form of elder abuse. Yet only “only a small fraction” of incidents is ever reported.
The CFPB is “calling on financial institutions to do their part to help protect older Americans,” he said.
InsuranceNewsNet Editor-at-Large Linda Koco, MBA, specializes in life insurance, annuities and income planning. Linda can be reached at [email protected].
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