Dedicated employee training significantly strengthens the ability of banks and credit unions to stop financial exploitation incidents before money leaves consumers’ accounts, according to a first-of-its-kind research report published by AARP and Virginia Tech’s Center for Gerontology.

The research found that effective education for financial institution employees benefits consumers in terms of both the number of potential exploitation incidents reported and the amount of money saved.

Analysis of the data uncovered several findings. Those who were trained through AARP’s BankSafe training were able to save an average of 12 times more money ($865) compared to others ($70), regardless of experience with previous trainings. In addition, those who received BankSafe training reported more than four times the number of suspected incidents of financial exploitation than those who had not. And assessment scores that tested knowledge of financial exploitation among those who had trained through BankSafe showed a 133 percent improvement, compared to a 33 percent increase among those who had not.

“Financial institutions have long been regarded as an important defense for older adults who may fall prey to financial exploitation,” said Pamela Teaster, director of the Center for Gerontology and coauthor of the research report. “BankSafe provides useful, important, and accessible tools for employees to safeguard older adults and their families.

The research was conducted as part of a six-month pilot program. More than 1,800 employees from nearly 500 bank and credit union branches in 11 states participated in the research. Participating states included Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Minnesota, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee, Utah, and Vermont. 

Tina Savla, a professor of human development and family science at Virginia Tech, assisted in all aspects of the project, including survey construction, data analysis, and report writing. 

“Without Dr. Savla’s expertise, it would have been impossible to discern whether the BankSafe training was effective,” Teaster said.

During the six-month pilot program, bank and credit union employees who completed the BankSafetraining stopped nearly $1 million from leaving consumer accounts. That was 16 times higher than the amount employees who didn’t take the training saved consumers.

AARP recommends that all consumers talk with their banks and credit unions about the steps they are taking to train their staff to stop the financial exploitation of older adults.

“Education and training of staff are two of the most powerful things banks and credit unions can do to protect older consumers,” said Jilenne Gunther, AARP’s national director of BankSafe and coauthor of the research report. “Our research shows that well-trained frontline employees provide a critical safety net for those most at risk of being exploited.”

More than 2,000 financial, legal, and law-enforcement professionals advised AARP in the development of the BankSafe training platform. Since launching nationally in May 2019, BankSafe training has helped protect more than 3 million consumers with approximately $71 billion in assets.

“The AARP BankSafe training is an important arsenal in the prevention, detection, and intervention of the exploitation of older adults,” said Teaster. “Though BankSafe training, bank employees can help stop elder financial exploitation before it starts or prevent the hemorrhaging once it has started.”

Photo by Leslie King.