There is no denying that financial advisors face a significant and increasingly common challenge. Many of our clients are beginning to fall victim to age-related dementia. I’m not saying this to demoralize you, but to inspire you—because I believe there is a solution in sight.
In a word, that solution is innovation. And I believe that the best way to innovate is to do what we advisors already tend to do best during problem resolution: We coordinate and converse with everyone involved—from caregivers and fellow professionals to the seniors themselves.
This isn’t just conjecture on my part. There are abundant and exciting opportunities to improve services for seniors. Recently I attended a Grand Rapids, Mich., meeting for Aging 2.0, a group dedicated to bringing together a global and diverse network of service providers to accelerate innovation and improve the lives of seniors. It was fun—and productive—to sit around a large table with professionals from various backgrounds, brainstorming the possibilities. The experience gave me considerable hope and more than a few new ideas. And that was just one small meeting.
Advisors and other financial professionals can improve how we serve and protect seniors, especially those facing age-related dementia. Medical research tells us that one of the first signs of dementia is difficulty managing personal finances. This means our clients can make really expensive mistakes with their money before their family or friends recognize there is a problem. How can we protect our senior clients, as well as their caregivers and families?
During the past few years, as I’ve networked with others about the challenges, I’ve seen several best practices emerge to protect clients who develop cognitive impairment. Here are some to consider bringing into your own firm.
Sandra Adams at the Center for Financial Planning and Peter Lichtenberg, professor at Wayne State University, discuss the signs of diminished capacity in their Journal of Financial Planning article, “How to Protect and Help Clients with Diminished Capacity.” Perhaps your client seems more disorganized than usual, does not remember recent conversations or is making decisions that do not fit with her plan or values.
More important, consider what you and your team should do if you are concerned about your client. Transamerica has a great guide for advisors, “The Advisor’s Guide to Financial Planning in the Shadow of Dementia.” You might spend some time at one of your team meetings exploring these questions:
1. How can we recognize cognitive impairment?
2. How should we communicate with our client and what planning steps should we take?
3. What should we do if we believe our client is being taken advantage of?
I’ve also seen advisors host educational events on the risks of dementia. This is not only good practice, but it can be good marketing because it is a topic of interest to a lot of people. (If you’re looking for a guest speaker to address the softer sides of the issue, consider Amy Florian at Corgenius.)