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How financial services firms can help employee caregivers

Assess how to provide resources, education and support for employees who are providing care for older family members

Dec 7, 2018 @ 3:56 pm

By Walter White

Financial services firms are in the business of caring for customers — resolving issues, addressing multiple needs and providing a high-touch experience. But some of that care and concern should be directed to our own employees, many of whom currently serve, or will serve in the future as the caregiver of a senior family member.

With more than 40 million caregivers across America, many employees in effect have a second job — a role that can take a physical, financial and mental toll.

Responsibilities can vary, but the average caregiver spends more than 10 hours per week offering support, doing such things as helping with grocery shopping, driving to appointments, and engaging with other service providers. Less than half of current caregivers receive any form of financial assistance for that support, yet the average caregiver spends more than $7,000 per year helping the elder in their care, according to the Safeguarding Our Seniors study from Allianz Life.

One key issue facing both seniors and their caregivers (and one very relevant to our industry), is elder financial abuse. Financial abuse can severely reduce a senior's hard-earned savings, but the damage doesn't stop there.

According to the Allianz study, nearly 90% of both active and potential caregivers said they experienced a financial impact when their elder was financially abused, with the average cost to those caregivers reaching a staggering $36,000.

In addition, those who are providing care for past victims of financial fraud are spending significantly more than those caring for elders with no history of financial abuse, which in turn negatively affects the caregivers' ability to save for their own needs.

Under the recently enacted Senior Safe Act, all financial services firms are required to provide training to employees to help them spot signs of elder financial exploitation, and firms are empowered to notify the proper agencies and local units of government if they believe a client may be the target of financial exploitation — without fear of negative repercussions. That is an important step forward, but in addition to watching out for their customers, financial services firms should also make protecting their employee caregivers from financial abuse a top priority.

(More: How criminals steal $37 billion a year from America's elderly)

Here are a few ways that financial services organizations can help employee caregivers:

• Educate employee caregivers on the red flags to help them spot potential financial abuse in their own families. While the signs may be different for financial professionals, family caregivers are likely to be much more in tune with their elder's finances and should be aware of any warning signs. This may include changes in financial activity such as inconsistent transactions, opening new debit or credit cards, adding new account holders or changing a power of attorney.

• Keep employees up to speed on trending methods of exploitation, including phishing and internet scams, phone calls from people pretending to be family members needing help, home repair fraud, messages from someone pretending to be from the IRS, and fake lottery and sweepstakes winnings. This training could be offered more often than the annual or biannual training that should already be in place to comply with the Senior Safe Act.

• Encourage employees to talk about the issue with the person they care for. Elder financial abuse can be a sensitive topic, but starting a dialogue and sharing examples of potential fraud are the first steps in raising awareness.

• Offer access to care management programs, which are often available through health insurance providers. These programs provide resources for caregivers, such as connecting them with relevant local agencies, and can help if someone suspects their family member is undergoing or being targeted for financial abuse.

Beyond elder financial abuse, firms should consider adding extra benefits and support programs for caregivers, such as paid caregiver leave or flexible work schedules to help accommodate their needs.

The financial services industry is already on the front lines of addressing elder financial abuse among customers, but the caregivers within our own walls may be facing these same challenges.

In our industry, best practices in protecting consumers should start at home. Financial services firms have an important opportunity to help their own employee caregivers protect and support the elder members of their families and in the process help reduce elder financial abuse among the growing population of older adults.

(More: New tools to protect elderly from fraud, exploitation)

Walter White is president and CEO of Allianz Life Insurance Co. of North America

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