To the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA), there are plenty of modern-day Willie Suttons eager to go "where the money is."Today, the money is largely held by seniors. Hence, regulators say, seniors are the targets of unscrupulous salespeople armed not with pistols, but with professional designations that exaggerate their competence or their concern for seniors' well-being.Now some of these individuals are being sought out not by potential clients, but by federal regulators, including the SEC and FINRA. These regulators are making it clear that advisors who use the word "senior" or various synonyms to transact business unethically are squarely in their sights. These individuals are "among [regulators'] top targets," says Tracy DeWald, general counsel at Securities America, a broker-dealer based in Omaha, Neb. "People age 60 and over are the biggest source of regulatory complaints."According to NASAA, some product salespeople using "senior" designations typically invite senior citizens to seminars where a free lunch is served along with a presentation on investments. Either at the seminar or through follow-up contacts, some advisors ultimately sell unsuitable investments to some of the attendees.In April, NASAA introduced a model rule on the use of senior- specific certifications and professional designations. This rule, which prohibits the misleading use of designations that include words like "senior" and "retiree," has already been adopted by the state of Washington. At press time, New Hampshire was set to adopt the rule and other states are likely to follow suit. A report issued last year by NASAA, FINRA and the SEC lists the popular Certified Senior Advisor (CSA) designation among those it considers misleading or confusing.Some broker-dealers have effectively banned reps from publishing senior-related credentials. Genworth Financial, for example, prohibits its employees and agents from using the CSA designation (the most common senior designation) on their business cards or in their marketing materials."We have a similar policy," says DeWald of Securities America. "In fact, we have lists of which designations are acceptable in published materials and which aren't. None of the 'senior' or 'elder' designations are on the accepted list. Some of our reps have these designations, which they can mention to clients in conversation. They can't put the letters behind their names to promote themselves."The CSA designation is conferred by the Society of Certified Senior Advisors (SCSA), which bills itself as the world's largest membership organization for professionals seeking to improve their skills in working with seniors. More than 9,500 advisors now hold a CSA designation.SCSA executives are quick to defend their organization."We're aware of regulators' concerns that certain professional designations may be misperceived by the public," compliance specialist Bill Kaluza says. "That's why SCSA requires each CSA to provide a written disclaimer to clients and potential clients."Are the CSAs telling the disclaimer to potential customers?"To date, we've had very little indication that CSAs are not using the statement," Kaluza said.

Subscribe Now

Access to premium content including in-depth coverage of mutual funds, hedge funds, 401(K)s, 529 plans, and more.

3-Week Free Trial

Insight and analysis into the management, marketing, operations and technology of the asset management industry.