By Kate Young
As baby boomers move into retirement age, the number of older Americans is growing, and so is the risk to their assets. The stakes are considerable. People over 50 now control more than 70% of the nation’s wealth. By the year 2030, the proportion of the U.S. population over the age of 60 is projected to reach 20%. And by some estimates, financial abuse costs U.S. seniors close to $3 billion annually.
Behind these startling figures, it’s easy to see a glaring consumer need—and an opportunity for banks to differentiate themselves by serving that need. May is Older Americans Month, and some financial institutions are observing the occasion by asking themselves what they can do to help protect the elderly from financial abuse. Are you?
Here are some banks in action.
Last year, First Financial Bank of Abilene, Texas won an ABA Community Commitment Award for its work in protecting the finances of older Americans. Employee training and partnerships with law enforcement have been the cornerstone of the bank’s Financial Exploitation Education program, which is scalable and designed to be adopted by other financial institutions. So far, the program has allowed the bank to prevent more than $1 million in losses.
Utah-based Bank of American Fork is also at the vanguard of institutions that actively promote financial protection for seniors. Among the bank’s offerings are account tools for specifically for seniors. Third-party account monitoring is one of those tools, which allows a trusted “helper” to watch out for fraud or irregular activity without assuming access or legal responsibility for the account. A recent video called Stealing from Grandma illustrates the origins of American Fork’s innovations—which all started with a girl who wanted to help her grandmother.
People’s United Bank of Bridgeport, Connecticut provides educational events, seminars, and training through its Masters Program. Designed for older Americans and community members, the program teaches financial safety, but also seeks to increase awareness of the physical and mental challenges that may make some older people vulnerable to financial exploitation.
Stay alert on the front lines.
Sadly, elder financial abuse can take many forms: theft, fraud, coercion, or misuse of a person’s assets or credit. New scams are constantly evolving. And rapidly changing technology means that it’s not always easy for older people to identify what’s safe and legitimate—and what’s not.
Banks are uniquely positioned to see the warning signs that financial abuse might be taking place. Here are just a few of the things that bank employees can look out for:
- Unusual account activity that the customer cannot explain
- A change from a basic account to one that offers more complicated services the customer does not fully understand or need
- Closure of CDs or accounts without regard to penalties
- Uncharacteristic attempts to wire large sums of money
- Suspicious signatures on checks, or outright forgery
- Confusion, fear or lack of awareness on the part of an older customer
- Bank statements that no longer go to the customer’s home
To help banks to fight elder financial abuse, ABA has launched a Safe Banking for Seniors program. This suite of free resources includes tip sheets, lesson plans, media tools, and other materials. On Tuesday, May 17, 2016, for example, ABA Foundation will be hosting a free webinar on planning senior financial education events. These resources make it easy for bankers to reach out to seniors and financial caregivers with information that could help them prevent devastating losses. So far, 38 state bankers associations have pledged to promote the resources to bankers in their states.
So if you’re wondering whether marketing has a place in making banking safer for older customers, the answer is yes. We all do.