The U.S. Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) received approval from the Securities and Exchange Commission on Thursday for two new rules that should help stop con artists who prey on the elderly before the damage is done.
FINRA member firms will have new authority as of Feb. 5, 2018 to take two simple but key steps to protect senior investors before a transfer of their funds takes place. First, firms will be required to “make reasonable efforts” to obtain backup contact information for their senior clients in the form of a trusted person whose information will be kept on file, FINRA’s announcement states. Second, firms will have the power to place a temporary hold on client funds or securities that are to be disbursed; this latter provision requires a “reasonable belief of financial exploitation” by the firm.
“These rules will provide firms with tools to respond more quickly and effectively to protect seniors from financial exploitation,” says Robert Cook, president and CEO of FINRA, in a statement. “This project included input and support from both investor groups and industry representatives and it demonstrates a shared commitment to an important, common goal — protecting senior investors.”
The new measure to place a temporary hold on assets is “critical” because of the great difficulty in retrieving assets once they have left the client’s control, FINRA’s statement says. Now, when firms suspect wrongdoing, they will have the power to contact the trusted person listed on the account, as well as the client, and to contact law enforcement officials or adult protective services, where appropriate, in cases in which the firm has suspicions about the nature of the proposed transaction. The new measures also provide a safe harbour for FINRA members from the application of certain other FINRA rules.
Read: Elder financial abuse
The significant response to FINRA’s Securities Helpline for Seniors, which went online on April 20, 2015, highlighted the need for the new rules, the statement notes. In the course of reviewing the more than 8,600 calls that the helpline received, FINRA became more aware of how member firms handle these situations. More than US$4.3 million in voluntary reimbursements from firms to clients has been made as a result of the helpline.
The issue of protecting seniors from financial fraud is also becoming more important in Canada as the size of this demographic continues to grow and regulators continue to take steps to study and prioritize the potential for abuses in this area. Ensuring seniors are protected in their relationships with financial advisors has provoked recent guidance and ongoing review from the Ontario Securities Commission, the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada and the Mutual Fund Dealers Association of Canada.
For more on FINRA’s rule, read the notice on FINRA’s website.