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FINRA looks to firms to help curb elder abuse

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In a bid to curb financial abuse of elderly and other potentially vulnerable clients, FINRA proposed new regulations that would expand wealth management firms' responsibilities as well as their scope of action.

Under the proposal submitted this week to the SEC, FINRA would require firms to make "reasonable" efforts to get contact information for a client's so-called trusted person — someone that the firm could contact in cases of suspected abuse.

At the same time, FINRA's proposal would permit firms to place a temporary hold on the disbursement of funds when they have reason to believe there is financial exploitation of the client.

The Wall Street regulator's proposal comes as the elderly compose an ever-greater share of the United States' population. In 2015, Americans 65 years or older comprised about 15% of the population, according to the Census Bureau. That figure is projected to rise to 22% by 2050.

FINRA says its proposed changes are necessary in part because its current regulations neither explicitly permit firms to contact someone who is not the account holder nor to place temporary holds on fund disbursements.

"With the aging of the investor population, FINRA believes it is important to put these protections in place for our seniors and other vulnerable investors," Robert Colby, FINRA's chief legal officer, said in a statement.

Colby said that the regulations, if approved, would "equip firms with more effective tools to better protect their senior and other vulnerable customers from financial exploitation."

Elder abuse has been getting increased attention from the industry and regulators. FINRA and industry trade group SIFMA are cohosting a conference this week in Washington on senior investor protections.

"We are pleased to see this proposed rule move forward, and look forward‎ to reviewing it and providing feedback,” Lisa Bleier, SIFMA managing director and associate general counsel, said in a statement.

FINRA also said that the need for rule changes — which will not go into effect until the SEC approves them — was also apparent based on the calls it has received to its senior helpline, which was created in April 2015. From its creation to May 2016, the helpline had received more than 4,600 calls.

"We're tracking the information based on when we get the call, who is calling, what state they are calling from — we're getting a better sense of the issues impacting the population," Susan Axelrod, executive vice president of Regulatory Operations at FINRA, told On Wall Street in an interview earlier this year.

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