FINRA, together with the SEC and NASAA are on a joint mission to keep seniors and impaired adults from being financially abused. FINRA has proposed new rules that will allow a firm to put a temporary hold on financial transactions when abuse is suspected, and will allow the firm to contact a trusted other during this hold period.
Where’s the flaw? No rule yet mandates that every financial firm and every individual advisor obtain information for a trusted contact person for every client. Not only should this be required for all new accounts, it should be mandated that such trusted others be identified for every client over age 65. As the risk of dementia doubles approximately every five years after age 65, the reasons for the advisor to have someone to call when concerns arise is obvious.
As to the subject of the trusted other, the elder usually names an adult son or daughter as the trusted one. Sometimes that is all the information the advisor has. At the same time, the studies on elder financial abuse show us that family members are the most frequent abusers. Do you see the contradiction here? Every advisor should be required to obtain not only one “trusted person” but two or three so that if abuse is going on or seems to be a threat, the advisor can involve more than one person in the effort to stop it.
Another flaw in the proposed rule is that is it assumed that something helpful will occur during the hold period when the institution is excused from liability for not acting. But there is no clear evidence that either advisors or institutions are being trained to spot financial abuse warning signs before the money is all drained from the account. As we see it, the proposed rule focuses on doing something after abuse is clear and the institution has “a reasonable belief” that financial abuse is occurring. We think the industry can do much better than reacting by being required to call someone after the client has been taken advantage of or had the portfolio plundered.
Here’s the truth: getting an unwilling aging person to step down from financial authority over his portfolio takes more than a few days or a couple of weeks. If there is a trust in place and the elder is the trustee, the terms often state that at least one doctor, or two must say that the client is no longer capable of handling financial matters. Getting a doctor or two to see the client, do an assessment and produce something in writing with the needed findings can take months. And we’ve witnessed this exact scenario when it did take three months to oust the impaired, demented senior who wanted to give his predatory adult child a debit card for his cash management account.
At AgingInvestor.com, where we educate both financial institutions and independent advisors about stopping financial abuse, we think the effort to keep elders financially safer needs to go to the front end of abuse, not the back end after it has happened. Proactive steps can be taken. We urge every financial professional to know the warning signs of diminished capacity so you can engage the trusted third party when the signs emerge, rather than waiting until someone, whether family or outside predator seizes the opportunity to exploit diminished capacity.
To learn more about what you or your institution can do that we think is much better than simply being allowed to hold transactions for a bit when you believe abuse is going on, contact us at AgingInvestor.com. We have an entire program outline ready for you with focus on prevention.
If your client is being manipulated, holding transactions when you’re pretty sure it’s gone on can do little to protect your client. The predators and thieves can empty an account faster than it would take you to fill out the forms FINRA will inevitably give you. Think the way you are trained to think about finances generally: plan ahead, anticipate problems before they get here, and take protective action.
Carolyn Rosenblatt, RN, Elder Law Attorney, Founder AgingInvestor.com