New code aims to protect Canadian seniors from financial harm

As of Jan. 1, many Canadian banks are following new guidelines designed to make banking easier and safer for seniors.

The Code of Conduct for the Delivery of Banking Services to Seniors provides a set of stipulations banks should be mindful of when serving customers who are older. Banks will establish appropriate policies and procedures to support seniors with their banking needs and will train employees who serve seniors to ensure they communicate effectively and have the proper resources to serve them. They will work to protect seniors from financial harm and consider their needs when debating branch closures.

RBC vice president of retirement strategy Rick Lowes said a key aim of the code is to protect seniors from financial harm. Banking personnel who work closely with them will be trained on how to detect when seniors may become the victims of financial fraud and to prevent that from escalating.

While Lowes said there has not necessarily been a sharp increase in the targeting of seniors as potential fraud victims during the current pandemic, many more seniors are banking online so they need to be aware of the risks. Since October 2019, RBC has seen a 101 per cent increase in e-transfers and a 46 per cent rise in digital payments from people aged 60 and older. Since March 2020 RBC customers aged 70 and older have increased their rate of mobile banking by 33 per cent and their online banking by 15 per cent. 

While much of that growth was driven by necessity, it will likely stick around after things return to normal.

“We’re seeing much stronger confidence among seniors about using digital services than was evident a year ago, even among those who had initially been reluctant to explore online banking options,” Lowes observed.

Whether that banking happens online or in the physical realm, Lowes said banks can do plenty to educate customers of all ages on how to protect themselves. For seniors that includes developing a resource centre with materials describing the types of fraud they may encounter along with tips on how to best protect themselves.

RBC has also developed outreach programs where staff call and email customers to see how they are doing and if they have any specific needs. They encourage them to also use their call centre, where seniors are given first priority in the queue so they do not have to wait as long. These initiatives, along with educational materials will be published in various media to help spread the word.

Staff will also be trained in how to detect signs of fraud and elder abuse along with the merits of using power of attorney or joint accounts, for example. Those staff have access to internal educational materials which are updated frequently.

Each financial institution should also have a seniors champion whose role is to ensure these initiatives are successfully applied in their banks.

“Their role is to ensure the code gets implemented and we are compliant with it,” said Lowes, who fills that spot for RBC. “We are to act as an advocate who is supportive of seniors needs and concerns and to act as a representative to outside groups.”

Lowes shared some tips seniors can remember to protect themselves from financial fraud. If you accidentally share your financial information online or over the phone, call your bank immediately. Never share your personal banking information over the phone.

“If someone calls and says they are from your bank, hang up before giving them any information and call back to your bank,” Lowes advised. “If the matter is urgent, try to identify the identity of that person over the phone or call back and confirm that person is real and they have the responsibility for these issues.”

Don’t click on unknown email links or attachments and never open emails from addresses you do not recognize; an offer which looks too good to be true usually is. If you are contacted by an unfamiliar number via text, delete the number from your phone. Never be pressured to act from a sense of urgency. Finally, be extra mindful of contacting companies on social media, and the Internet as fraudsters are good at mimicking legitimate websites and social media pages so they can intercept your banking information.