Helping Caregivers and Their Parents

By Bryan Clagett

The elderly and their children need the support of bankers.

There is a tremendous need that the majority of us seem to be ignoring. Aging America is a hard reality and caring for aging parents is a genuine concern for millions of American households. Aside from the moral or ethical obligations I feel we have towards the elderly—and without sounding too much like an overly capitalistic opportunist—this market segment is an opportunity for banks. In fact, there are really two market segments.

To illustrate my point, allow me to share my personal story.

My father is a rather healthy, active 90-year-old. My father still lives alone, drives, and mows his own 1.5 acres of lawn on his zero-turn riding mower. He is a widower, after caring for my mother who died from Alzheimer’s. Up until her death, he really seemed to run his household well. After all, he was a retired AT&T executive, an MIT Sloan graduate, and physically and mentally healthy. Growing up, I lived a rather privileged life and money was not a problem in the household—and frankly, not something I thought about much. My dad was an active investor, a saver, and he made sure the household lived well below our means. He could afford a Mercedes, but drove a Buick. We could afford lavish European vacations, but chose the mountains or the Virgin Islands.

In short, he was very smart with money.

One day, last year, I went over to his home just to see how things were and to make sure he was taking good care of himself. For whatever reason, I noticed a number of bills in his den, several of which were marked “past due.” I decided to check the balance in his checking account and try to pay them. I was astounded to see a five figure balance in his checking account and about $9,000 in overdue bills. My dad thought his bills were all on autopay, including his Amazon Chase card, which he uses to save a bundle and get his points. My first reaction was to get online and pay his bills. This was impossible, since he forgot his passwords.

My legwork was just beginning, and I have become his financial caregiver.

Over the course of several months I have spent countless hours getting his finances in order. This included better understanding his cash flow needs, bills, investment returns, estate plans, and his retirement benefits. He had always been on a kind of financial auto-pilot, but as he got older, he lost some control.

The good news is that through my investing time and energy, his bills are now paid, his investment portfolio is well managed, and I have a clear picture of his retirement benefits and wishes with regards to his estate. I also have fixed some tax challenges that crept up due to a lack of attention. I now completely manage his finances. And I have received very little, if any, support from his financial institutions.

With a rapidly aging population, my situation is by no means isolated.

Financial institutions have much to gain by working with caregivers and elderly parents. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it is the epitome of “relationship banking.” U.S. banks can adopt formal approaches to age-friendly banking that would:

  • Adapt to the needs of an aging society.
  • Deliver a better service to existing and new customers and improve customer satisfaction.
  • Build a reputation for age-friendly service that may give competitive advantage.
  • Develop systems and products that better suit all customers, regardless of age.
  • Reduce fraud and financial exploitation.
  • Improve the relationship of the bank with stakeholders.
  • Continually rebuild the reputation of the banking sector following the crash of 2008.
  • Differentiate the financial institution in an evolving competitive landscape.

Banks have an opportunity to provide a highly valued service that removes the burden on caregivers while addressing needs of the elderly. In my case, partnering with a bank to address my dad’s financial situation and daily banking needs, would have saved me time and money, while demonstrating to me that they were in tune with my needs and those of my father. Ironically, the organization that ultimately did the most to assist me, was a large wealth management firm with international reach. They provided me with advice, products and services to help me get my father’s financial affairs in order. Their support was substantial and helpful and made a world of difference to me and my father. I wish I could say the same of my bank.

Bryan Clagett is CMO at Geezeo, a personal financial management (PFM) solutions provider dedicated entirely to financial institutions. Email: [email protected].