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Ex-Vikings Quarterback Fran Tarkenton: How Advisors Can Prevent Elder Fraud

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Fran Tarkenton, “The Mad Scrambler” NFL record-setting Vikings quarterback, was licensed to sell insurance at age 18. Back then, fellow students at the University of Georgia purchased the plan he was marketing. Today, the retired Hall of Famer is touting fixed indexed annuities as a retirement strategy to protect seniors from financial abuse.

He also recommends “building a wall” of trusted friends and advisors to keep potential fraudsters out, Tarkenton tells ThinkAdvisor in an interview.

Kicking off his pro-football retirement four decades ago after throwing 342 touchdown passes, he wasted no time throwing his considerable energies into a second profession: serial entrepreneur. Over the last 30 years, he’s launched 20 successful businesses. At present, the five Tarkenton Companies include GoSmallBiz and the Tarkenton Certificate of Entrepreneurship, an online certificate program.

Tarkenton Financial, an insurance marketing company serving independent financial professionals, is also a distribution partner for fixed annuity and life insurance carriers. The firm focuses on retiree and pre-retiree income strategies.

Financial abuse of seniors perpetrated by family members chiefly prompted Tarkenton to write a new book, “Safe & Secure: 10 Essential Steps for Seniors to Protect Against Financial Abuse” (Regnery-Jan. 22), authored with Rick Gossett, Tarkenton Financial’s chief operating officer.

Safe and Secure: 10 Essential Steps for Seniors to Protect Against Financial Abuse. By Fran Tarkenton and Rick Gossett

In the interview, the NFL Hall of Famer explains the four key steps of his game plan, which covers both offensive and defensive strategies.

About to turn 79 this Sunday — And celebrating, guess where? The Super Bowl, natch – Tarkenton suggested that FAs take the lead to help seniors “build a little wall” around them, thereby creating a system of “checks and balances.” This four-person circle can prevent the senior from becoming isolated and, consequently, preyed upon financially by a persuasive individual.

Last year, U.S. banks reported a record 24,454 suspected cases of elder financial abuse — twice the number of five years earlier, according to The Wall Street Journal.

A product that can protect seniors is the fixed indexed annuity, Tarkenton argues. He praises it as safer than investing in the stock market.

The Richmond, Virginia, native and University of Georgia grad played for the Minnesota Vikings from 1961-1966 and 1972-1978, when he took the team to the Super Bowl three times (albeit never winning). He was with the New York Giants from 1967-1972.

In 2003, he founded Tarkenton Financial. The following year, son Matt Tarkenton, now executive vice president, joined him after heavy experience in banking and wealth management with firms including Alex. Brown & Sons and the Robinson-Humphrey Co.

Right after retiring from football, Fran owned a computer software and consulting company, which later merged with a firm that subsequently sold the enterprise to a larger one. In 1999, Tarkenton reportedly settled a 1994 lawsuit that alleged accounting fraud connected with the latter sale, paying a $100,000 fine and $54,187 in restitution.

In the interview, he spoke dismissively about the case: “That was 30 years ago. We sold that company to another large company, and they sold it. That was way back in 1990.”

ThinkAdvisor recently interviewed Tarkenton, speaking by phone from Atlanta, where his financial firm is based. After hearing his recommendations for preventing elder financial abuse, this reporter asked him to assess the job performance of President Donald Trump, his longtime friend.

At the 2016 Republican National Convention, Tarkenton gave a speech lauding the then-full-time real estate developer and saying, “He gets stuff done,” adding, “I’ve watched him fail because all of us fail, and I’ve watched him get back up because he never quits.”

Here are highlights of our interview:

THINKADVISOR: Why were you nicknamed “The Mad Scrambler”?

FRAN TARKENTON: I had the ability to use my legs to buy more time and put a little more pressure on the defense [in order] to pick up a first down and throw the ball down the field. Patrick Mahomes [Kansas City Chiefs quarterback] plays like that. I think that’s the trend in professional football going forward.

The “Mad Scrambler” scrambling.

Your 79th birthday is on Feb. 3. It’s the day of this year’s Super Bowl. Will you be there? I’m going with Roger Goodell [NFL Commissioner]. He invited me to sit with him. I like professional football and college football, but I don’t go to many games. I like watching them on television mostly. But I’m going to this one!

You got an insurance license when you were 18 years old. How come?

I majored in insurance [while] I was playing football for the University of Georgia. So I got my license and offered a plan to the students. I’d gone to one day of a sales class and never went back because it was all about twisting people’s arms to make the sale. The role of being a financial advisor, or in any business situation, is not to tell people what to do but to show them their options and build trust. It’s to help them make decisions that are best for them.

Your Tarkenton Financial website highlights fixed indexed annuities. Do you specialize in them?

We work in fixed indexed annuities and insurance products that have more certainty than the market does. We want customers to take as little risk as possible. We don’t work in securities at all. Our focus is retirement-income planning using safer alternatives than the stock market. Most people don’t understand the value and safety of fixed-indexed annuities and indexed universal life insurance products.

Why did you write a book about protecting elders against financial abuse? You define an elder as “anyone who has reached normal retirement age.”

We’ve got to stop this abuse because it’s epidemic and criminal. That includes robo-calls that scare seniors to death. But the biggest perpetrator of financial abuse is the family itself. This is the most egregious type of abuse I’ve come across. It ruins families over someone trying to make sure they get “their share” of the money.

Why are seniors such targets?

Most people of my generation have made money, and often their children — and their nieces and nephews and uncles and aunts — want part of that money. They think it belongs to them. So the next thing the senior knows, they’re isolated by one of them — and they’re taking out $5,000 here, $10,000 there. They say they’ll pay it back, but they never do.

What should be done to protect against elder financial abuse?

The main thing is that seniors shouldn’t be isolated. There are too many cases where caregivers or housekeepers get the confidence of the senior, become their sole provider and take advantage of them because they think they deserve [the money].

Yes, that’s very common.

It reeks of problems because there are no checks and balances. When there’s only one person the senior talks to about their finances, it’s a red flag.

How can financial advisors help to prevent abuse?

They can put together a support group of four people and be the lead: a financial advisor, a family member, accountant and lawyer, say. This will build a little wall, if you will, around the senior to make sure they know where their money is every moment.

What else will a “wall” accomplish?

You’ll have the advice of these four people that can be cross-checked with one another so you don’t have one person manipulating [the senior]. It’s a great opportunity for the financial advisor to build trust and credibility.

Anything else that advisors can do?

Work with seniors to simplify their finances so they understand them 100%. It’s not OK to just let the advisor [decide] everything. People need to know and understand their finances.

How can buying a fixed indexed annuity protect the elderly against financial abuse?

If you’re a senior with a big part or all of your money in the market, that’s not a good idea because the market goes up and down. Seniors should be in safer alternatives, and that’s where insurance products, fixed indexed annuities and indexed universal life come in. They’re insurance-protected products that probably make more sense for most seniors.

Why would a fixed indexed annuity make more sense?

If the market goes down, your annuity value won’t go down. It stays at the same level.

Fixed indexed annuities are somewhat controversial.

They’re controversial with the people that want to sell stocks because you’re not going to get the upside of the stock; you get 50% of the gain. But you [also] get downside protection. The people doing stocks don’t like them because they think you’ve got to leverage your money more and get better returns.

Do you buy stocks or fixed indexed annuities?

I’m a large stockholder in Apple and other great companies — and I’ve made a lot of money. But I own fixed indexed annuities too. When I look at where the ones I bought 10 years ago are today, they’ve performed amazingly well — without the risk of the market’s ups and downs.

In your book, you detail 10 steps “to stop financial abuse in its tracks” and use the acronym, “STOP” to represent four of them: “S”— Simplify; “T” — Transparent; “O” — Organize. That’s the “offensive” part of your game plan. “P” stands for the “defensive” part: Protect your personal identity information.

You’ve got to protect your identity the best way you can. Even if you have a financial advisor, you’ve got to know what’s going on. My wife was compromised on her identity a year ago. We got all the money back that went through the department stores and credit cards, but they never caught the perpetrator. These criminals just keep going on and on.

Another area of professional financial abuse that you point out in the book is affinity fraud.

These are scammers who make the mass robo-calls: “You’d better send us $3,000!” If you say you won’t, they make up stories. They’re masters at it. You’ve got to be sure you’re protected against them and eliminate their calls.

You gave a speech about Donald Trump at the 2016 Republican National Convention, saying that he “gets stuff done” and “can make America great again.” You declared that you’ve “watched him fail … and … watched him get back up because he never quits.” How do you grade Trump in his job as president?

Here’s the deal: I’ve known Donald Trump since he was 23 or 24 years old. He’s sometimes insulting, and his table manners aren’t very good. But I think he’s done a great job of addressing issues that have needed to be addressed for a long time.

How do you rate him as president of the United States?

I know it’s not in vogue to even say anything positive about him, but I think he’s doing a good job.

As a former top athlete now turning 79, how do you keep in shape?

Every afternoon when I go home, I get on my treadmill and walk 14-minute miles for two miles. Then I take a sauna or steam for 15 minutes. That controls my weight and blood pressure. In 1978, my last year of playing football, I weighed 193. This morning I weighed 186. So I exercise and eat properly. My stamina is good.

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