While COVID-19 has been a force of change, cutting across every demographic, seniors have arguably taken the brunt with high health risks, extreme isolation and rising fraud. As founder and CEO of Age-Friendly® Business, and a Certified Professional Consultant on Ageing (CPCA), Rhonda Latreille offers tips and tools for how advisers can demonstrate leadership, offer support, and ultimately, grow their practice – with compassion.
COVID-19: Older clients in focus
No one can deny that COVID-19 has brought volatility to client portfolios. But it has also shone a spotlight on the evolving needs of older clients, underscoring the need to provide tangible support to this potentially vulnerable population – and one of the biggest targets for the increasing number of fraudsters and scammers during the current pandemic.
According to CanAge, a national seniors advocacy organization, 92% of senior citizens live at home, as opposed to long-term care facilities, and one in five are subject to elder abuse, which includes frauds and scams.1 Add to this, now is the prime time to prey on the susceptible: recent stats from the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) show that Canadians have already lost more than $1.8 million to coronavirus-related scams since March 62 (and these numbers only reflect the reported cases). What can advisers do to help prevent this?
More than ever, clients are looking for leadership across industries, through competence, clarity and importantly – compassion. For advisers, your specialist market expertise has to be bundled with the ability to recognise the fear and uncertainty prevalent right now, going that extra mile to understand (and address) the unique challenges of ALL your clients, including the 50-plus cohort. It’s an opportunity to stand above the crowd, and for the real leaders in our communities to step up. While there is much advisers do not have power over right now, you DO have the ability to choose how you’ll respond in this time of global crisis.
Stepping up your game
My focus is on training professionals to look beyond account statements to protect the whole client. An important part of this is recognition and appreciation for what’s keeping older clients up at night, and then providing the appropriate information and support, which engenders trust, and deepens the relationship. In the current environment, everyone is facing new circumstances, and with social distancing in full force, many may not have access to traditional support systems to provide guidance, caution and protection.
As a starting point, consider a weekly check-in call to older clients who may be sheltering, to let them know that you’re thinking about them and that you care. Normalise their feelings of uncertainty, and don’t assume they have someone to confide in. It’s not a grand gesture, but it can make an enormous impact to their mental well-being, sparking an emotional connection during these times of social isolation.
Importantly, if you’re not already, keep them in the know of the newer scams that are quickly arising to take advantage of people during the public health crisis. Yes, they are worried about the value of their portfolios, but don’t forget to address how they’re at risk in their day-to-day life too.
Supportive tips to avoid COVID-19 scams
As a helpful tool you can refer to in your conversations, I’ve included a list of the most recently reported frauds, and defensive tactics for your ageing clients:
- Hot stocks – there have been reports of phone calls pressuring people to invest in hot new stocks, promising “blow-up gains” related to the virus. TIP: Don’t take advice relating to your investment portfolio from an unauthorised person.
- Phishing – previous scams to glean personal information are being repurposed. TIP: If you didn’t initiate contact, you don’t know who you’re communicating to, so never give up personal information over the phone, or click on any suspicious links or attachments. If you want to access legitimate websites for updates, manually type the known domain address/URL.
- Charitable giving fraud – either via phone, online ads, text messages or social media, scammers are pressuring people to make donations to a bogus charity to fight coronavirus, asking consumers to make payments through a secure digital wallet. TIP: Investigate before you donate. Ensure the charity is registered. An easy way to avoid any pressure is to immediately respond with “I make all my contributions at the beginning of the year, but I’ll consider it in the future.”
- Merchandise scams – Whether door-to-door, over the phone, or online, false product claims are rampant now – from free masks to faster testing kits and decontamination cleaning services to protect against the COVID-19 virus. TIP: Contact the company or service directly to see if they sent a salesperson, or if they created the online advertisement, and be sure to follow the advice of your local health authority with regards to any claims of home decontamination.
- Miracle cures – Fraudsters looking to monetise on the uncertainty are offering a “miracle oil,” with consumers advised to follow a link. Beware of deceptive ads around “natural” remedies, cleaning products or protective vaccinations offered, which are often couched in a “great conspiracy” to keep treatments away from the public. TIP: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Not only could these treatments be ineffective, but they could also be bad for your health. Follow the guidelines from local authorities, and personal healthcare practioners.
- Emergency scams – emails purportedly from friends/family asking for funds to help with medical bills associated with the virus via email money transfer. TIP: Be suspicious of any unsolicited calls, emails or texts that request urgent action or payment.
If suspected fraud has already taken place, you may be able to help stop the bleeding by advising your clients to immediately contact their bank or financial services provider. In these scenarios, offering empathy and reassurance can go a long way, with comments like, “it’s easy to click on the wrong link,” and “these scams are designed to hit anybody and everybody, so you’re not alone.” The reality is that any person can be a target, especially during these unprecedented times.
Combating social isolation
While the issue of fraud is a vital focus for older clients and their finances, we should not overlook both the short and long-term impact of the loss of association, physical contact and community, which is a critical part of life experience, particularly through later-life transitions. A major problem with the loneliness resulting from the COVID-19 isolation is the uncertainty and fear. How long will the isolation continue? For those in the high-risk, ageing category, many may be wondering if they will even see a time when their world will open up again.
During your client calls, consider proactively broaching the conversation, starting from a point of understanding and awareness – and then move to acts of kindness. For example, some of our members send handwritten cards in the mail to clients, which conveys thoughtfulness and sincerity, and initiates a meaningful connection. Another powerful suggestion is to commit to a regular schedule of calls to create predictability, so your ageing clients can look forward to the interaction. It’s even helpful to prepare some uplifting anecdotes/jokes ahead of time, or memories you can revisit to express appreciation for your relationship.
Growing your business with integrity
Social isolation and fraud, while exacerbated during the pandemic, are among the many concerns that impact older clients – crisis or not. Having trained thousands of advisors under the CPCA designation since 2003, we know the content – which covers the health, social, legal and financial aspects of ageing – is a natural fit for the industry. Owing to greater life expectancy and spending power, there is a trillion dollar “longevity economy” that’s operating worldwide. To participate, advisers must earn the right by creating an elevated experience for the ageing marketplace – and make seniors feel valued instead of invisible. Not only will it bolster revenues, but it will do so from a place of integrity and service. Eventually, your ageing clients will say that not only do you know about financial products and services, you also know about them. I often hear from our members that the ability to move from success to significance – and have that kind of community impact – makes it all worthwhile for them.
1 Faiza Amin, “Coronavirus scams targeting seniors on the rise,” CityNews, April 17, 2020.
2 Government of Canada, Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, May 25, 2020.