05/30/2013 01:42 pm ET Updated Jul 29, 2013

The Importance of Ensuring Older Adult Financial Security

May is Older Americans Month, a month dedicated to celebrating the value and importance of our older adults. This year's Older Americans month has the theme of "Unleashing the Power of Age." Indeed, it is critically important that older adults are empowered given the financial security challenges they are facing today. There are numerous serious threats to the economic wellbeing of older adults. The housing foreclosure crisis has devastated communities and left millions underwater on their mortgages. Many scammers target older adults with predatory schemes that rob them of their hard-earned resources and wealth. Potential cuts to Social Security are looming. High cost pension advance products have caught the attention of banking regulators for the harm they bring to older adults. Nearly three-fourths of all older adult households today are economically vulnerable, meaning they would not be able to handle the financial repercussions of a traumatic life event, such as a sudden hospitalization or the need for a emergency home repair. All of these issues add up to a pressing need to work together to make sure older adults can live in financial security. After all, all of us are older adults in the making.

In the face of these challenges, financial institutions, government regulators and policymakers, and advocates have integral roles in ensuring that older adults can live in economic security. And older adults should be empowered to protect themselves and advocate for better products, practices and policies that address their unique needs.

At the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC), we work to empower older adults through National Neighbors Silver, a multi-year campaign to empower, organize and support economically vulnerable older adults. National Neighbors Silver combines advocacy, organizing and direct service to promote access to quality banking services and housing for older adults so that they can age with dignity.

As part of the National Neighbors Silver program, NCRC trains and organizes National Neighbors Silver Older Adult Ambassadors. These volunteer Older Adult Ambassadors serve as liaisons to other older adults, helping to inform, organize and build bridges with older adults in the community. These trusted peers, armed with vital knowledge and compelling stories, play an invaluable role as leaders in their communities. And they are doing meaningful work - engaging in advocacy, helping their peers to enroll in benefit programs, and impressing upon their peers the importance of housing counseling and financial literacy.

One important undertaking in this mission is the work to make banking more age-friendly. Financial institutions can do a lot more to serve the needs of the older adult population, including improving access to bank branches for older adults, and providing financial products that better suit the needs of older adults and specialized fraud protection. At NCRC we are working to promote age-friendly banking practices such as these that will benefit older adults.

There should also be zero tolerance for any entity or individual engaged in activities that deplete the wealth or compromise the financial security of older adults. Federal and state regulators, law enforcement agencies, and financial institutions have critical roles to play here. Regulators should provide more robust and timely data and analysis of older adult fraud and abuse trends. In addition, regulators should continue to develop sophisticated trainings on detecting and reporting fraud and abuse for consumers, financial institutions and other individuals working with older adults. Law enforcement agencies must work to crack down on scams and elder financial abuse. And financial institutions are particularly well positioned to detect irregularities and financial abuse of older adults and can be the first line of defense in preventing elder financial exploitation.

After the irresponsible lending and nefarious practices that led to the crash of the economy and the housing crisis, it is the moral responsibility of financial institutions and regulators to right the ship and do right by older adults, and indeed by all consumers. When it comes down to it, older adults should be able to retire with dignity, age in place, and receive financial products that preserve their wealth and economic security. We have a responsibility as a nation to be active and forward thinking about policies, practices and products that will be beneficial for older adults. It's just the right thing to do.