Unethical brokers and financial advisors target those they feel are most vulnerable, and often times that is the elderly. Investors close to retirement or already retired are typically the most risk averse and require the most conservative portfolios because they have limited ability to make up for investment losses in the future. First and foremost, they need their retirement money to be preserved. Preservation of capital requires a diversified portfolio, consisting largely of fixed income investments like bonds. Unfortunately, some brokers use their positions of trust with their elderly clients to take unnecessary risks in the hopes of making large profits. While this approach can pay off, it can also leave an elderly customer in financial ruin with no avenue of escape.
According to a recent article published in the Washington Post, a senior vice president at Wells Fargo Advisors, Pamela Bolanis, blew the whistle on her supervisor, Christopher Sargent, for allegedly placing his elderly clients in risky investments, “including thinly traded penny and micro-cap stocks,” in violation of industry rules. Sometime after reporting the violations to management, Ms. Bolanis was fired. She has filed a claim alleging that she was fired for reporting the violations to the company. Her claim is pending. Penny and micro-cap stocks tend to be very risky because there is often very limited information available about the stock, the companies have very little money to operate, they tend to be either new companies or companies struggling to stay afloat, and the stocks can be difficult to sell. These types of risky investments are particularly unsuitable for elderly investors who are relying on their portfolios to last them through retirement.
The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) has formulated rules that require brokers and financial advisors to only recommend investments that are suitable for their customers. If an elderly investor sees a dramatic drop in his or her portfolio, that portfolio should be examined for its suitability in light of the investor’s financial needs and objectives.