Every day in the U.S., some 10,000 people reach age 65.
This aging wave will continue for the next 15 years as the Woodstock generation moves into retirement, or at least old age. It's a huge business opportunity for financial advisors, says Walter White, CEO of Allianz Life, but it is also a challenge because of the special issues that older clients — or younger clients with aging parents — can face.
"By 2030," White says, "20% of Americans will be over 65, and that enormous population is going to drive more scams and more scammers of the elderly." Already, he says, elder scams are a huge and growing problem, with the average successful scam costing victims about $30,000.
SOURCE OF HELP
White notes that advisors are more likely to be a source of help to the elderly, rather than a source of abuse. "Scams by advisors are certainly not the majority of elder financial abuse cases," he says, "and we realized that advisors are in a position to spot problems, like beneficiary changes coming out of the blue, unusual financial transactions and other signs of financial abuse."
A new study of 2,000 older people by Allianz Life, titled "Safeguarding Our Seniors," highlights both the scale of the problem and the potential opportunity for advisors to add value by helping clients deal with it.
For example, only 8% of elders in the study who said they had been scam victims said they were currently discussing their finances with another person, and only 24% said they were in touch with others on a regular basis to protect themselves from further abuse. Yet the same study found that those over 65 who did discuss their finances with a third party felt they were better equipped to prevent financial abuse.
But the issues of the elderly go beyond such abuse. As clients age, there are other risks that advisors need to look for, such as physical decline and early signs of dementia.
"The advisor can engage others and open up a conversation between older clients and children," he says.
While Allianz doesn't have an advisor program itself, it encourages advisors to start those conversations, which can include setting up wills or trusts, and getting needed power of attorney forms signed. But White also cautions that advisors need to be "careful not to step over the line," becoming more of a social worker than an advisor.
Deb Taylor is CEO of Senior Community Services, a social services firm based in Minnetonka, Minn., which offers statewide help in steering families to services for the elderly and also runs programs to educate the elderly and their caregivers about issues that they may face. She says her organization works with advisors to provide presentations on everything from elder fraud to "navigating Medicare," and explains that "when clients have questions the advisor can't answer, they can send them to us." She adds that many states and communities have organizations that are similar to hers and urges advisors to seek them out and learn what they can offer.
Dave Lindorff is a Philadelphia-based journalist.
This story is part of a 30-day series on better serving seniors.