How to alleviate the COVID-19 burden on your senior clients

Rhonda Latreille

MBA, CPCA, Founder and CEO, Age-Friendly Business®

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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 Aging (CPCA), Rhonda Latreille offers tips and tools for how Advisors can demonstrate leadership, offer support, and ultimately, grow their practice – with compassion.

COVID-19: Seniors 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 seniors, 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 seniors 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 Advisors do to help prevent this?

More than ever, clients are looking for leadership across industries, through competence, clarity and importantly – compassion. For Advisors, your specialist market expertise has to be bundled with the ability to recognize 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 Advisors 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 seniors 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 sheltered in, to let them know that you’re thinking about them and that you care. Normalize 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, Canadians 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. It’s necessary to remind them that the Canadian government WILL NOT be soliciting seniors over the phone to send them Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) relief funding, or asking them to click on a link to confirm personal or financial information. That’s why it’s critical for Advisors to stay on top of the federal benefits being provided, and how your clients can apply.

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 aging clients:

  • Hot stocks – There have been new 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 unauthorized person. It’s even wise to consider the use of a private personal code to identify professional counsel.
  • Phishing – Previous scams to glean personal information are being repurposed, with new breeds ranging from emails and/or phone calls from the Public Health Agency of Canada with an update on COVID-19, to those impersonating government bureaus like the CRA to verify eligibility for financial aid. 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 a legitimate website 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 by checking with your local Better Business Bureau. 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 solicitor, 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 monetize 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 – CAFC has received reports of emails 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, and report it to the CAFC. 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 seniors 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 the 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, aging 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 Advisor 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 aging 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 seniors – 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 aging – is a natural fit for the industry. This is especially true as Boomer clients transition to the next stage of life, with more than 5 million Canadians set to turn 65 this decade.3 Owing to greater life expectancy and spending power, there is a trillion dollar “longevity economy” that’s operating worldwide. To participate, Advisors must earn the right by creating an elevated experience for the aging 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 aging 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.

To gain more valuable insights, practice management ideas and business-building tools, contact your BMO Global Asset Management Regional Sales Representative.

For more relevant tools to support seniors during the current pandemic, please consult the resources below:

BMO Global Asset Management: Advising Clients with Cognitive Issues

CanAge Resources

COVID-19 Fraud and Cybercrime Prevention Video

Alert! Beware COVID-19 Fraud

Government of Canada COVID-19

Financial Consumer Agency of Canada COVID-19

Coronavirus disease (Public Health Agency of Canada)

Coronavirus disease (World Health Organization)

Disclosures

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.

3 “Ok, boomer! The future for Canada’s soon-to-retire demographic,” CBC Radio, January 21, 2020.

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