Some real-life heroes serve their country, fight fires, or teach schoolchildren. Others help protect the financial health of a community’s most vulnerable citizens. Their job title is financial institution employee and, as with all heroes, proper guidance can boost their skills profoundly.

A report by the AARP and Virginia Tech’s Center for Gerontology revealed financial institution employees who receive specialized training can help thwart financial exploitation of older adults. During the six-month study, employees who completed the AARP’s BankSafe training stopped nearly $1 million from leaving consumer accounts. That was 16 times higher than the total saved by employees who didn’t take the training.

Pamela Teaster, director of the Center for Gerontology, coauthored the report, which was based in part on data analysis by Tina Savla, a fellow professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Science.

“Financial institutions have long been an important defense for older adults who may fall prey to financial exploitation,” says Teaster, a nationally recognized expert in preventing such exploitation. “This training is an important arsenal in the prevention, detection, and intervention of the exploitation of older adults.”

Written by Andrew Adkins and photographed by Leslie King