Experts from across the country came together in Washington, D.C. on June 11, 2019 for the World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) Fifth Global Summit and the 15th anniversary of the commemorative day. This year's theme was "Lifting Up Voices" with the goal to champion elder justice and discuss elder financial exploitation.
Dr. Elizabeth Podnieks, Founder of WEAAD, shared her vision "where we celebrate and respect older persons and their human rights." Her challenge to the crowd was finding a way for WEAAD to be sustainable and truly global. She emphasized that:
There is a need for extraordinary leadership, clarity of vision, and complete commitment in knowing that in a civil society, each person can and must resolve to do better, be stronger, to reach further, to find solutions.
Why is there a focus on older Americans? First, importance of the demographic group. Over 34% of the US population is aged 50 and older, and more than half of the nation's households are headed by someone 50 years or older. The population of people in their 70s, 80s, and 90s is set to double by 2037. Second, increased vulnerability. Many older adults are trustworthy and some may have diminished capacity (e.g. hearing, sight, physical or mental impairment), This can lead to being easily swindled by savvy predators.
Elder abuse is a rampant, largely invisible, expensive, and lethal problem. It costs victims, their families, financial institutions and taxpayers tens of billions of dollars a year. The most conservative estimate for older adult losses to fraud is $2.9 billion, but it ranges up to $36.38 billion (MetLife; True Link Financial). Average loss per person is $50,000 when the older adult knew the suspect and $17,000 when the suspect was a stranger (Consumer Financial Protection Bureau).
Betty F. Malks, moderated the day and kicked off the opening remarks along with Owen Donley, Chief Counsel, U.S. SEC Office of Investor Education and Advocacy, and Lance Robertson, Assistant Secretary for Aging Adminstrator, Administration for Community Living. The Global Summit explored a variety of topics, including:
Dr. Cynthia Thomas from the Committee for National Statistics at the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine spoke about how more scholarly studies can increase the awareness of elder abuse.
Liz Loewy from EverSafe moderated a panel on using technology to protect against abuse in later life with Marci Lobel-Esrig from SilverBills, Rob Wray from BlueStar SeniorTech and Howard L. Tischler from EverSafe.
Lisa Bleier from the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA) moderated a panel on FINRA Rule: One year later with Ron Long from Wells Fargo, Aisling Murphy from Vanguard, Melissa Shea from Fidelity, and Jim Wrona from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA).
Yuka Hayashi from The Wall Street Journal and Nick Leiber who has written for Bloomberg and The New York Times, spoke of media reporting on elder financial exploitation.
Stacey Canan from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau spoke issues and trends related to Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) on elder financial exploitation.
Karen Kali from the National Community Reinvestment Coalition spoke about age-friendly banking including things like
Kathleen Quinn and Joe Snyder from the National Adult Protective Services Association (NAPSA) spoke about the newly expanded records request form for APS.
In most part, the speakers outlined much needed steps in the right direction to safeguard seniors. Some of the most innovative solutions were in the technology arena which could eventually obviate the need for restrictive situations like guardianship.
Even though guardianship reform was not on the agenda, participants felt the presence of affected families and advocates. On behalf of Elder Dignity, I asked the banking professionals, "What education and training is provided to their teams about the the risk of guardianships?" An agent may be trying to seemingly "protect" a client from fraud by referring him/her to a guardian and in reality be feeding the client into an even more exploitative system. Unfortunately, the answer across the board was they are "just the bank" and have a reporting obligation. This is extremely concerning. We need a multidisciplinary approach to solving this major guardianship fraud issue. All players in the ecosystem need to be trained as to the potential for exploitation in the current guardianship system. At the end of the question, I offered to share the Anatomy of an Involuntary Guardianship Framework.
After the Summit, we headed over to the Dirksen Senate Office Building for the reception. It was a nice close to the day. Many people asked for the framework handout/postcard which is a good sign. Hopefully, at the very least, all of the participants are a bit more aware that guardianships are no longer the solution and we should work together to craft a humane alternative.
The event was convened by the NAPSA, National Center for Victims of Crime and International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse (INPEA), and sponsored by JPMorgan Chase Foundation, SIFMA, Wells Fargo and the American Bankers Association Foundation.