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Are robots coming for the elderly in 2015 again?

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A famous faux-commercial from “Saturday Night Live” has Sam Waterston as pitchman for Old Glory Insurance. Waterston, former star of NBC’s “Law & Order,” warns of a dire threat plaguing the nation. He plays it so straight it isn’t until the nature of the threat is revealed that the viewer understands the joke—robots are attacking the elderly.

“As a senior citizen, you’re probably aware of the threat robots pose,” Waterston deadpans. “Robots are everywhere, and they eat old people’s medicine for fuel.”

Pretty amusing; especially against the backdrop of a low-tech, 1950s robot smashing through an elderly couple’s bedroom door to gobble their pills.

It’s easy to laugh at irrational fears, especially as we age. But playing off the fears of others? Not so much.

For a short time, a colleague was employed with a firm that was riding high on variable annuities in the early part of the last decade. Their marketing and sales techniques were typical of too many questionable business practices industry—wide at the time that eventually came to light. It wasn’t just that they were telling their appointed advisors to scare older people, but they were writing it down. He remembers reading official memoranda that suggested they remind depression-era babies of the hardships they and their family went through, and then of course pitch the product’s inherent guarantees as a way to guard against a similar crash. The economic crisis exposed not only the immorality of such techniques, but also the folly, as every sector of the economy, including insurance, was rocked to its foundation.

Every industry will have its bad apples, and it might seem a little naïve to point to what industry veterans have long-known or experienced themselves. After all, Massachusetts Secretary of State Bill Galvin and others have come down hard on senior citizen scaremongers. But one of the few upsides of the 2008 crisis was that it shook the bad apples from the tree.

This issue is front and center again because of the great year indexed annuities had in 2014, and a rebounding economy that has kicked into gear has all signs pointing towards more to come.

“Following on the heels of a record-setting 2013, [2014] figures to enter the books as another strong sales period for indexed annuities. Despite a third quarter that saw an almost 9% decline from the previous quarter, overall sales for 2014 will easily pass $45 billion,” according to Annuities Advantage.

While this is good news it also means the fruit of the poison tree might once again be growing.