Planners can prevent financial abuse

At the FPA Professionals Congress speakers who specialise in protecting vulnerable, elderly and disabled people from financial abuse shared how planners can be part of the solution.

Anne McGowan, chief executive of Protecting Seniors Wealth, started with practical advice: "Keep records of suspicious activity."

She explained regulators around the world are waking up to the issue of financial abuse of the vulnerable, with new legislation in the United States and the Australian Banking Association calling for a national protective strategy.

"The focus should be on client safety and security, protecting the dignity of the client," McGowan said.

"Perpetrator tactics can begin as suggestions and escalate... Financial abuse can lead to other forms of abuse."

Adult children are the most common perpetrators of elder financial abuse but McGowan said she's aware of cases where new friends suddenly come into the life of an elderly person and take advantage of their finances, or even where neighbours slowly gain access to an elderly person's finances.

William Johns, chief executive and founder of Health & Finance Integrated, said he takes "things to the extreme" by having adaptable cars so that he can take elderly and disabled clients out of the office.

Johns pointed out that the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability protects people's freedom to make their own decisions - understanding this, he said, is one of the key ways to provide dignified financial services to a disabled client.

Dignity of risk, Johns explained, is an important concept.

"You are a supporter to the decision maker. You are supporting them to make the right choices. You are not telling them what to do," he said.

To successfully provide financial advice to a vulnerable client, Johns said having protocols in place from the outset is the most practical way to ensure both the adviser and client are protected. For example, he explained how he prefers to work with mentally ill clients. This involves including a clause in the contract that allows him to contact family members or support networks, if appropriate, to enquire about the client's mental state and welfare.

Kathy Havers, executive financial adviser at Viridian, has her practice as an adviser informed by her own experiences as her son has autism.

She shared some of her experiences with clients who are the parents of disabled children, and noted that often advisers will be dealing with single parents.

"Unfortunately, the statistics are that when you've got a child with disabilities the parents are more likely to split up," she explained.

Havers said the main concern parents have when they have a disabled child is their own mortality - how the child will cope and be cared for in the future.

"Have empathy and really listen. Educate yourself, make sure you qualify to provide the advice and if you don't then refer the client on," she said.

"If you believe there's any potential for abuse you should speak to your licensee very quickly."

Read more: FPA Professionals CongressAnne McGowanAustralian Banking AssociationKathy HaversViridianWilliam Johns
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