New York Times Article – For Elderly Investors, Instant Experts Abound

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Elderly clients thought they had every reason to trust Michael DelMonico as a financial counselor. After all, the Massachusetts insurance agent had become a certified senior adviser in 2002, a credential he made sure to advertise on fliers sent to retirees.

He did not mention how easy it had been to get that title.

He had paid $1,095 for a correspondence course, then took a multiple-choice exam with questions like, “Marketing can best be described as:” (The answer: “The process or technique of promoting the sale or distribution of a product or service.”) Like more than 18,700 other applicants since 1997, he passed.

Insurance companies, eager for sales representatives, embraced Mr. DelMonico, as they have thousands of other newly credentialed advisers.

The following year, insurers paid him commissions worth $720,000 as his business with retirees soared.

But many of those sales came from steering older Americans into unwise investments, Massachusetts regulators contend in a lawsuit.

Mr. DelMonico denies all wrongdoing, but one of his clients “” a 73-year-old widow caring for a son with Down syndrome “” said he tricked her into buying complicated insurance contracts that left her unable to pay dental and home-repair bills.

“His office was filled with things saying he was certified to help seniors,” said that client, Mary Ann St. Clair. “The only one he really helped was himself.”

Mr. DelMonico is one of tens of thousands of financial advisers working hand-in-hand with insurance companies to market themselves to older Americans using impressive-sounding credentials like “certified elder planning specialist,” “registered financial gerontologist,” “certified retirement financial adviser” and “certified senior adviser.”

Many of these titles can be earned in just a few days from for-profit businesses, and sound similar to established credentials, like certified financial planner, that require years of study, difficult tests and extensive background checks.

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