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Award-Winning Tool Empowers Banks and Credit Unions to Stop Financial Exploitation, Better Protect Client Savings

Every year, millions of older Americans lose significant portions of their life savings to financial exploitation, and researchers estimate that up to 20 percent of adults over 65 years of age will become victims. Financial exploitation represents a significant and growing threat to older Americans and their families. Recognizing the key role that banks, credit unions, and other financial institutions – and particularly their front-line staff – play in identifying and stopping financial abuse drove AARP to develop a solution to this growing problem.

AARP found that consumers are looking to their trusted financial institutions for help, with 4 out of every 5 older consumers preferring to establish accounts at financial institutions with at least one exploitation-prevention service. One of the top services older Americans want from their banks is highly trained employees that are equipped with the tools to detect exploitation and take appropriate steps to prevent it.

So AARP brought together leaders in the financial industry and asked the question, “what can we do together to solve this growing problem?”

The answer was clear. The best way to fight exploitation is to prevent money from ever leaving the account. The challenge is having employees recognize the red flags, understand the appropriate action steps, and feel empowered to put their knowledge and skills to work.

AARP offered to partner with the industry to develop a free training that combines AARP’s understanding of the wants and needs of older adults with the expertise of the financial industry. More than 2,000 professionals from the financial industry, trade associations, adult protective service agencies, non-profits, government organizations, regulators, and the legal field helped AARP develop the training platform.

Our research shows that financial professionals trained by BankSafe save 16-times the amount of money from being stolen from older adults than their peers. These financial institutions are doing vital and impactful work to better protect older adults from exploitation.

Financial exploitation is a problem that hits home for older Americans, their families and the financial industry. One in five older Americans are victims of financial exploitation, with each victim losing $120,000, on average. Further, the U.S. financial industry loses roughly $1 billion every year because of exploitation of adults over 50.

Elder abuse is a growing concern and frontline staff are the first line of defense. They are the first ones to see the clients that come in on a daily basis. This is why tellers and financial service representatives need awareness and consistent training.

The BankSafe training, available at no cost to banks, credit unions and financial advisors in the United States, has stopped nearly $31 million from being stolen from older adults.

In 2020 alone, the award-winning BankSafe training platform better protected over 9 million consumers and saved more than $19 million from exploitation. A research report on the effectiveness of training found that BankSafe results in substantially higher reporting of financial exploitation and significant financial savings for consumers.

Last week, AARP announced 86 banks, credit unions and financial advisory firms that have committed to fighting financial exploitation and have trained more than 80 percent of their frontline staff on the award-winning BankSafe training platform. These institutions are actively implementing policies to report suspected financial exploitation and have been confirmed by AARP to be in good standing based on a review of Better Business Bureau as well as legal and regulatory activity.

First made available to banks and credit unions in spring 2019 and refreshed at the beginning of 2021 with new interactive scenarios and activities, the BankSafe course has the potential to exponentially increase the collective impact in the fight against financial exploitation—protecting millions more older adults from losing their hard-earned savings. In addition, the financial advisor BankSafe training platform that was launched in fall 2020, arms broker-dealers, investment firm employees and asset managers with the knowledge, skills and confidence to take action.

Designed to meet the unique needs and demands of client-facing staff, the award-winning platform is an interactive, 40-minute training that employees can complete in one sitting or at their own pace as they choose among more than 20 education and training activities. The course includes games, interactive videos, real-life scenarios and state-specific resources. By combining the most current and industry-leading content with smart online education techniques like bite-size training modules, gamification and fun quizzes, BankSafe is designed to meet the needs of today’s financial institutions.

The BankSafe training is clean, easy to navigate and fun. It’s creative and interactive, so frontline staff stay engaged while they equip themselves with the tools they need to recognize the red flags and intervene in situations that seem suspicious. Frontline staff enjoy the real-life examples and experiences shown in the BankSafe training. The training’s interactive process lets them choose which direction they should be following, who they should go to, and which step to take next. Because it was developed by industry professionals across sectors, representing banks, banking associations, and more, the training provides real-life scenarios that are relevant to many different individuals and experiences.

Managers and staff can also track their team’s performance and identify opportunities for growth in customer interaction and exploitation prevention. State specific resources provide tips and tools available to frontline staff, all in one spot, with information available on state laws and intervention models specific state-by-state.

As part of the BankSafe program, financial institutions in good standing can apply to have AARP verify that at least 80 percent of their frontline staff successfully passed the BankSafe training and confirm that they have a financial-exploitation escalation or reporting policy. Qualifying organizations can apply to receive the BankSafe Trained Seal, good for one year, recognizing their commitment to fighting exploitation. The BankSafe nationally recognized training program is accessible and free to all banks, credit unions, and investment firms in the U.S. Interested financial institutions can learn more about the program, the problem, and can sign up today at www.aarp.org/banksafe.

About Author – Jilenne Gunther

Armed with a passion for social work and nearly two decades of experience in public policy and elder law, Jilenne Gunther is on a mission to solve policy problems and implement solutions to protect the finances of older Americans and their families.

As the national director of AARP’s BankSafe Initiative, Jilenne is following in the footsteps of a three-generation banking family. She is leveraging her expertise to focus on the intersection between financial exploitation, dementia, caregiving and the accessibility of the banking environment for older adults. Core to that effort is her work leading the development of a game-changing financial exploitation prevention training program that is empowering the frontlines of financial institutions nationwide to curb exploitation.

She’s spent the last 15 years developing programs and conducting groundbreaking research that have advanced financial exploitation prevention across the country, including the creation of the nation’s first banking account feature to help family and caregivers prevent exploitation.

Her efforts in creating and building programs from the ground up have protected more than five million older adults across the nation from financial exploitation. In addition, her pioneering work in identifying legal needs to better target services to consumers in Utah resulted in nearly five times the amount of legal service funds and in-kind donations being made in the state. Inspired by her success, more than 40 states have implemented programs replicating her work.

Jilenne has authored two books on consumer rights and elder law, and has written a pioneering analysis on the economic cost of financial exploitation. Her work has been cited in Senate hearings, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau advisories and U.S. Government Accountability Office reports, and she has been widely quoted in Forbes, Money Magazine, The Associated Press, American Banker and other media outlets. As a result of her commitment to making a difference in the lives of older adults, Jilenne has received 15 awards and counting, including the State of Utah’s Woman of the Year Achievement Award.

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