It seems that regulators are fond of creating new mandates for you without telling you how to implement them and what risks might be involved. The new FINRA rule that says you must “try” to get a trusted contact person (TCP) for new clients is illustrative.
First of all there is no firm requirement that you actually get a TCP for anyone. All you have to do is make an attempt. If the client says “no”, you’re out of luck in trying to solve any problem that may exist without anyone to call in the event of an issue you see. Such issues might include someone ripping off your client or your client really losing his marbles. The intent of the rule was good. The idea was to increase protections for vulnerable elders. It’s just that the way clients act and the issues you are sure to see with one TCP have been ignored in regulators’ creation of this mandate.
Research has given us important information about protecting elders from financial abuse. We know that family members are the most frequent abusers of elders. Guess who most elders would think of as a TCP? The family member, of course. The idea of a single TCP is flawed from the outset. If the idea is to keep your client financially safer, you don’t want to be limited to the potential abuser as the TCP. That defeats the purpose.
Here at AgingInvestor.com we are on a mission to keep elders safer. We make every effort to fill in the blank places your regulators leave when they come up with a mandate like getting a TCP for your clients. Here are our recommendations on this subject and why we say what we say about TCPs.
First, we believe every advisor should not only “try” to get a TCP for every client–we think you should insist on it as a matter of your intelligent, proactive senior office policy. Every client, new and existing should be approached with a courteous, respectful explanation and request to name a TCP you can contact in case of need. You let clients know that you have a policy to protect them from potential predators who are out there trolling for your clients, particularly the seniors. You could write this explanation and request up and send it around or bring it up at every portfolio review.
Next, we recommend that you get not just one TCP for every client, but three. The reason for this is that since family members are often the abusers of vulnerable people, you need someone else to call if “sonny boy” is ripping off dad’s account and dad is too impaired to realize it. “Sonny boy” just might be the one TCP his dad, your client named and you would then be stuck with no way to protect your client in that situation. Someone outside the family would be ideal. This could be the estate attorney, a competent friend, or a clergy person your client trusts. Any of them would need to be able to intervene when learning of suspected financial abuse of your client. A third TCP could be another family member your client also sees as trustworthy. With information going from the advisor to three people at once, the risk of abuse is lessened and the chances of effective action in the event of abuse are increased.
Finally, we recommend that you consider all the risks involved in a decision to reach out to the TCP when you see red flags of diminished capacity in your client, or when you see warning signs of financial abuse of your client. You do need a written internal office policy that directs you as to the observations, documentation and steps to take when an issue comes to your attention. Legally, you are probably on firm ground, carrying out the intent of the FINRA regulation. However, you don’t want to set your client up for harm.
For instance, if the client is in the middle of a contentious divorce and the ex- spouse is the TCP, do you want to release information about your client’s finances that could harm your client in the divorce proceeding? Give yourself time to discuss the options with other, knowledgeable people in your office, or group. The value of having a proactive office policy for aging clients in this situation is that you have others to ask and weigh in with their points of view.
If you are not sure about the red flags of diminished capacity and what you should look for, get your free downloadable checklist here. Likewise if you are not clear about classic warning signs of financial abuse get your free checklist for those here too.
Need help with that smart, proactive senior office policy? Ask for a consultation at AgingInvestor.com and get the guidance you need from our nurse-lawyer, geriatric psychologist team
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