man examining papers with magnifying glass for financial fraud

By Michael Armstrong

A few years ago, my parents each fell victim to financial exploitation. These are two of the smartest, most savvy people I know. Still, they lost tens of thousands of dollars because they trusted someone who set out to dupe them.

Of course, I felt a fair amount of guilt. I’ve spent my entire career in financial services – how could this have happened?

What I realized through that experience is that anyone can become the target of financial abuse. I also learned how difficult it is for people to talk about it, even with those they are closest to. But having open conversations about the risks, the warning signs, and what we can all do to prevent financial abuse are critical to addressing the issue.

Since then, I’ve been determined to shine a light on this growing problem and to protect others – particularly the clients in my firm’s care -- from losing their hard-earned assets to fraud and deception.

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Late last year, we took a large step toward that goal with the launch of the Client Risk Prevention division at RBC Wealth Management—U.S. This group exists to better arm our employees with the resources and training to prevent, detect and report suspected financial abuse.

In launching this division we’re not just paying lip service to a popular topic, we’re putting money and resources into addressing it. We’re doing it because it’s increasingly necessary in the world today and we’re doing it because it’s personal – for me and for the thousands of people impacted by financial abuse on a daily basis.

Financial advisors can hold a special place in a family’s life. They know more about their clients’ financial picture than sometimes even the clients themselves do. For that reason, advisors are in a unique position to identify signs of trouble early on. Those signs can range from changes in behavioral patterns, the sudden addition of other family members as decision makers on accounts, or a drastic swing in risk tolerance or investment preferences brought on, often times, by some form of dementia.

Financial advisors can also encourage clients to name a Trusted Contact, a person the advisor can call on in certain circumstances to protect a client’s assets and respond to possible financial exploitation.  

While our clients are our top priority, this mission we’re on is much further reaching.

Beyond arming our employees with resources to identify and prevent financial abuse, we are creating new connections with community resource groups and conducting broad outreach to government agencies, with the goal of sharing knowledge and building awareness.

One of those collaborations is with SIFMA, a financial industry trade association, which recently called on member firms to sponsor their Senior Investor Protection Toolkits. I’m proud to say RBC Wealth Management—U.S. was the first firm to say yes.

These toolkits are packed with practical, actionable information and resources. Education, as they say, is power, so the more hands we can get these kits into, the better chance we have of curbing financial fraud.

Financial fraud and exploitation is rampant today and it would be naïve to say we can eliminate it altogether. But I do believe it is feasible to change the trajectory of the trend.