Advisors and oversight organizations will need to prepare for a wide range of health concerns and challenges as the baby boomer generation matriculates into retirement, according to information uncovered by the Investment Protection Institute and the Investor Protection Trust.
As boomers begin to crest that 65-years-of-age mark and become senior citizens, sound financial advice and education will become more important than ever according to Don Blandin, president and chief executive of Investor Protection Trust.
"At 77 million or so at a rate of 10,000 per day for the next seventeen or so years, the baby boomers are turning 65, making them eligible for Medicare. That's going to be a huge drain, so we've got to make sure that what they have been able to secure for their financial security they don't lose through bad advice or bad investments or out-and-out fraud or exploitation," Blandin said in a phone interview.
Aging clients present new challenges. While tax laws and Medicare coverage constitute obvious surface-level changes, some more subtle issues may arise for some older investors.
"As they age they are possibly in line to get mild cognitive impairment," said Blandin. "That's not Alzheimer's; that's not dementia; that's just a decline in cognitive skills in the frontal cortex of the brain, which causes them to be less risk averse."
According to Blandin, clients may continue to behave normally and go about all their usual activities, so they may not even recognize when they miss a step on a complicated financial decision.
"The trouble is how do we deal with people being their own worst enemy when it comes to investing or attempting to maintain a nest egg that they've spent their whole life building?" Blandin said.
Under Blandin's watch, the Investor Protection Trust has put together a pocket guide for doctors to be able to identify patients who may be at risk for slight cognitive impairment and says that advisors must make sure they are similarly prepared for abnormalities in their practice. To that end, Blandin reports that he is seeing more and more interest in the advisor community in attending seminars and lectures on the subject.
He also places an onus on organizations such as the Financial Planning Association to keep advisors apprised of these complicated issues.
"I think this is an issue of the professional organizations of financial planners that they belong to like the Financial Planning Association. They're trying to address this issue with an increasing number of education sessions on how to spot potential victims," he said. "[Advisors] can't just do business as usual."
The study also revealed best practices for how advisors can help increase or maintain seniors' financial literacy. Seventy-one percent of respondents said that in-person availability was the most important factor. Another 52% voted for measurement of results in terms of improved awareness/understanding, and 35% said that availability in person via the internet is important.
Even if an advisor is putting in more face time, however, there remains an inherent difficulty in approaching these concerns with an aging client. Having a strong pre-existing relationship and doctor-patient-like understanding can help.
"It depends on the relationship that the financial advisor has. Some of these are very longstanding relationships with a whole lot of trust. If you have that kind of rapport- like I know my doctor does that with me- if he sees something I shouldn't be doing, he suggests why I shouldn't be doing that and I don't have a problem at all," Blandin said.
While some may be responsive to aging clients in a constructive way, the survey also reports that some advisors could be misusing their credentials
Around six in 10, or 59%, of those surveyed reported that they believed that existing accountability controls for "deterring the misuse of 'senior advisor credentials'" are "ineffective." A large number, 42%, believed that there were not adequate resources for seniors when selecting a financial advisor appropriate for their needs.
"Sometimes planners, if they're not operating in a fiduciary responsibility for their clients, they could recommend things that just aren't appropriate. Everyone has stories or anecdotes. A colleague of mine had a parent who invested with an annuity, and the planner decided to change to a 'better annuity' but nobody bothered to remind the people before they did that of the penalty of transfer of the old annuity. Bottom line: it lost about $150,000. Where do we find a way to match seniors who need help at whatever level with trusted individuals that are able to help them?" Blandin said.
According to Blandin, the solution is two-fold.
On one hand, a large part of the responsibility rests with consumers to continue their education and stay actively involved with and aware of potential signs of cognitive impairment. Blandin, who is 64, has had conversations with his children to inform them about the potential for unusual decision-making and to advise them to call him out on it.
"I personally think it's my responsibility: the individual. I need to decide who I should be working with and who I can trust. I don't want to say my financial planner is in charge and I'm disengaged," he said. "Seniors should embrace lifelong learning."
The second element that Blandin pushes is more collaboration among doctors and regulators.
"The Investor Protection Trust's Elder Investment Fraud and Exploitation Prevention Program has already trained more than 3,000 U.S. medical professionals who deal everyday with older Americans to spot the impaired mental capacity that can leave seniors vulnerable to financial abuse. It is encouraging that we are seeing more securities regulators collaborating with health care practitioners," Blandin said.
Both the Investor Protection Trust and the Investor Protection Institute are nonprofit organizations that focus on research and consumer education. The survey was done in response to a request for information by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and polled 756 professionals in healthcare, regulatory, financial services and adult protective services fields.
Mason Braswell writes for On Wall Street.