The growing senior population in the U.S. has placed urgency on the need to serve the nation’s elders in a variety of financial-related issues, including retirement planning, maintaining economic security, and to protect them from financial abuse, said a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) official in prepared remarks for a Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Protection hearing this week.
“The need to help older Americans is great,” said Hubert “Skip” Humphrey, Assistant Director of the Office for Older Americans, in his written testimony. “As seniors top 50 million in number and soon will make up 20% of our population, they will face more and more challenges to maintaining economic security, supporting long-anticipated retirement plans, and exerting control over financial decision-making.”
The Dodd-Frank Act gave the CFPB’s Office for Older Americans several responsibilities, including monitoring financial advisors’ credentials and promoting “sound financial management and decision-making of seniors with a particular focus on the areas of long-term savings and planning for retirement and long-term care,” said Humphrey.
Though his appointment to the office is fairly recent, Humphrey stated his intention to bring awareness to what he called one of the biggest financial issues facing seniors and this country today—elder financial abuse and exploitation.
“Whether you call it a hidden epidemic or the Crime of the 21st Century, as some have, it is a serious problem that we need to address,” he said.
Seniors aged 65 and older lost an estimated $2.9 billion to financial abuse and exploitation, a MetLife Mature Market Institute study found, said Humphrey, representing a 12% increase from 2008. The problem is growing worse, and its impact is likely far greater than the estimated $2.9 billion, as many cases of financial abuse and exploitation go unreported, he continued.
“People need to feel comfortable speaking about these issues,” he said, referencing the shame many feel after being tricked or exploited. “At the CFPB’s Office for Older Americans, we want to raise public awareness and give people a forum to speak up about their experiences and speak out to help prevent them.”
While the CFPB hasn’t specifically detailed its plan to address the issue of elder abuse, the Office for Older Americans will partner with other agencies and groups that have already been working on these issues, said Humphrey, as it intends to “help stop this growing and horrible epidemic.”
Humphrey reiterated the necessity of the CFPB for all consumers.
“In the end, the best defense against deceptive practices and elder financial abuse and exploitation is not only tough enforcement, but also effective prevention through good education and training of all our consumers, not just older Americans,” he said.
Written by Alyssa Gerace