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Elderly Need Financial Institutions Watching for Signs of Abuse; Dixie Cup FCU CEO Takes it Very Seriously
Tuesday, October 1, 2013 6:00 AM

Federal regulators’ announcement that financial institutions would not violate the privacy of elderly customers by reporting suspicions of financial abuse to authorities is terrific news, Columnist Pamela Yip tells The Dallas Morning News readers yesterday. According to Yips, it adds another layer of protection around a group that sorely needs it as a prime target for thieves.

“There are two critical areas in an elderly person’s life: the professionals who take care of their health and the bank or credit union that keeps their money,” Yip writes.

While senior advocates have enlisted the help of doctors, nurses and other health care providers to be on the alert for signs that an elderly patient is having trouble doing simple mathematical calculations or is confused when reading a simple bill or financial statement, Yip points out in her Sept. 30 column that employees at financial institutions may be able to flag irregular transactions, account activity or behavior that signals financial abuse sooner than anyone else can.

“The elderly need all of us watching out for them, and that includes the institutions that they do the most business with and that they trust,” she tells readers.

Fort Smith Dixie Cup FCU CEO Vicki Newton takes elder abuse very seriously.

“Our members are like family and I’m going to protect them like they are my own,” Newton tells the Leaguer. “If you’re trying to write a check off grandma’s account and you tell me grandma is in the car, well, I’m going to need to see grandma.”

Newton has been with Fort Smith Dixie Cup FCU for 32 years, and her mother retired from the credit union after 40 years of service. The credit union has one branch, which is located at the Dixie Cup plant. Including Newton, the credit union has 2.5 employees serving about 1,200 members. According to Newton, more than half of their members are elderly.

“We’re a small shop,” Newton says. “And with a closed field of membership, it’s easier to get to know our members and learn their financial habits. If something doesn’t look right, I’m going to catch it.”

Newton recalls a situation where an elderly member she knows well came into the credit union. She was disoriented and needed help with a Medicare issue. Recognizing that the member’s state of mind put her in a vulnerable position, Newton immediately called her son.

“I know our members by name, and I have a strong connection with them. They trust me, and if I’m in a position to help them – even if it’s not credit union related, I’m going to do it,” adds Newton.

The Cornerstone Credit Union League and its REAL Solutions program have developed an initiative to promote awareness of elder financial abuse and exploitation (EFAE) in the financial services industry.

The Real Solutions EFAE initiative includes a toolkit for credit unions with basic information on how to combat EFAE in their credit unions and protect their members. To learn more about REAL Solutions and the EFAE tool kit, visit the “Outreach” section of the League’s website, at www.cornerstoneleague.coop. If you have any questions, please contact Paula Upchurch, director of REAL Solutions, at pupchurch@cornerstoneleague.coop.