His job is to protect 50 million older Americans from financial abuse and exploitation.
As head of the Office for Older Americans at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), Skip Humphrey has a lot on his plate. And he wouldn't have it any other way.
The 70-year-old son of Hubert H. Humphrey, President Lyndon Baine Johnson's vice president, is part of the team bringing to life the agency, created in the wake of the economic meltdown of 2008, to protect consumers and to police banks, lenders and financial institutions.
The bureau's potential impact is significant: The value of our retirement nest eggs is projected to reach $22 trillion by 2016, a 30 percent increase in just four years.
Of the army of agencies policing the nation's financial markets, the CFPB is the only one designated explicitly to target elder abuse. That gives Humphrey his mandate. He's acutely aware of the stakes for those 50-plus.
"As bad as it's been for everyone, when it happens to you at age 70, you don't have another chance to recover from a financial scam," he says. "We can't allow that to happen."
Just consider: During the recent financial crisis, Americans 55 and older lost about 40 percent of their net worth. The group is vulnerable to financial advisers who boast meaningless credentials to sell bogus or inappropriate investments. Older Americans can even be victimized by loving family members who are clueless about their responsibilities as court-appointed money-managing guardians.
Older adults are common targets
Scam artists steal a documented $3 billion a year from the 55-plus population, a mere fraction of the actual amount, considering that only an estimated 4 percent of retirement-age victims — just one in 25, according to various studies — ever report those crimes.
As Humphrey knows from his time as Minnesota attorney general and as an AARP state president and national board member, older people sometimes make the problem worse. They're often reluctant to admit they've been exploited and are afraid that being exposed might jeopardize their independence. As a result, they end up getting deeper into financial trouble. Further, their financial decision-making ability usually declines with age. Humphrey and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau want to change all that.
"Our goal is to answer two questions," Humphrey says. "How do we prevent these citizens from getting ripped off? And how do we help them make smart financial decisions as they age?"
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