When I go out and meet advisors on a person-by-person basis, I meet good, solid people who want to do right by their senior clients. Often, we talk in philosophical terms of their personal beliefs and how they treat their clients.
The advisors I meet, way more often than not, are really out for the best interests of those retirees who are living on a fixed income. Unfortunately, one bad apple can spoil the bunch and if there’s anything we’ve learned in the last two weeks from the Penn State scandal about morality and doing the right thing, it’s that too many people will turn a blind eye to criminal and immoral behavior to keep their own situation safe.
Should advisors do more policing of their own? From time to time I get a phone call or an email from an advisor who points me to another advisor who’s doing wrong by his clients. I always wonder in these cases if it’s a moment of sour grapes, spreading a tale about a competitor, or if there’s a legitimate concern.
It’s in those times I turn to the folks at the National Ethics Association who can help me with the necessary criminal and financial background checks on advisors to find out if there’s a fire behind the smoke. Harry J. Lew of the NEA has sent me a couple of examples of bad apples taking advantage of elderly clients.
As you read these case studies, please keep in mind, what would you do? What, as an advisor, can be done or should be done? While the money’s great, at the end of the day, if you treat the client right, the money will come, right? It’s the client that needs your help.
A former New Hampshire life agent is in hot water for exploiting an elderly client. According to state officials, the agent persuaded an 86-year-old client with dementia to sign a $10,000 check to pay for the agent’s daughter’s tuition. The man had been a client for seven years before he began exhibiting dementia symptoms in 2010. After the agent induced the client to sign the check, a person with the client’s power of attorney intervened and filed a complaint with New Hampshire’s Bureau of Elderly and Adult Services. The agency also found that after the agent hired a cleaning firm to go through the client’s house, money and property went missing. The agent faces life and securities license suspensions and $5,000 in fines.
Two Illinois advisors have lost their licenses for wrongfully liquidating customer annuities to fund the purchase of fixed indexed annuities. According to the Illinois Securities Department, the two persuaded 12 investors with an average age of 73 to exchange their annuities for fixed contracts, generating $122,630 in surrender charges. In Illinois, registered investment advisor reps are held to a fiduciary standard. Securities regulators found the transactions to be unsuitable and not in the customer’s best interests, due to their age and the surrender penalties.