The Senate Special Committee on Aging plans to investigate how insurers and related organizations qualify and train agents to sell products to senior citizens.

Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., chairman of the committee, writes in a letter to six organizations that he is uneasy about recent allegations that some insurance salespeople and financial advisors have misrepresented their expertise in senior financial affairs.

“With rising health care costs, pension plans changing from defined benefit to defined contribution, escalating long term care expenses, and ever rising day to day costs of living, seniors are turning to investments to supplement or increase their retirement income,” Kohl writes in the letter. “Sadly, as this trend has grown, so too have the number of unscrupulous actors preying on our seniors.”

The letters were sent to Old Mutual Life Insurance Company, Boston, a unit of Old Mutual P.L.C., London; Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America, Golden Valley, Minn., a subsidiary of Allianz S.E., Munich; American Equity Investments Life Insurance Company, a division of American Equity Investment Life Holding Company, Des Moines, Iowa; the Society of Certified Senior Advisors, Denver; Piece of Pie Strategic Coaching, Rochester, Minn.; and Senior Insurance Training Services, Sonoma, Calif.

Kohl refers in the letters to allegations in a recent New York Times article that some firms said they teach advisors to become experts in senior financial matters while providing little or no such training.

Kohl asks the recipients of the letters to provide copies of the materials they use to train agents to become senior product specialists.

Kohl’s committee will open a formal hearing on the Times allegations in the first week of September, according to a committee spokeswoman.

Allianz Life “looks forward to working with the Senate Special Committee on Aging and will provide the information that they seek about our practices,” the company says. “We know that our practices in the area of suitable sales are among the most consumer friendly in the industry, and we look forward to sharing these practices with the committee.”

An official of the CSA says his group is at ease with the investigation.

“In spite of the fact that the CSA designation is not a financial designation, Society of Certified Senior Advisors looks forward to showing the committee how the CSA training teaches professionals from all walks of life how to benefit seniors through better communication, greater empathy, and a broader understanding of seniors’ circumstances and the resources available to seniors,” says CSA President Ed Pittock.

Representatives for other companies named as recipients of the letter were not immediately available to talk to National Underwriter about the letter, but Old Mutual and American Equity told the Times they would comply with the committee’s request.

Tom Orr, owner of Senior Insurance Training, told the Times his company did not certify agents but rather only provided a continuing education program that the state of California requires of insurance agents.