Help Your Employees Achieve Their Retirement Dream: Tips for Spotting Early Retirement Scams
Your company offers retirement benefits to help your employees lay the groundwork for financial independence when they leave the workplace. There is one more thing you can do for those employees nearing retirement—help ensure they do not fall prey to early retirement scams that may wipe out years of savings and company benefits.
Your company may host seminars or other meetings to educate your employees about retirement planning, or your company may permit third party providers to conduct seminars for your employees. While most third-party provided retirement planning seminars offer valuable information, others may not be appropriate, particularly those that promote voluntary early retirement. For example, some seminars include misleading assumptions about investment returns, suggest risky withdrawal strategies, or lead to outright fraud. This brochure will help you spot early retirement seminar schemes that can derail years of employee savings and sound corporate policy.
Because not all early retirement seminars are in your employees’ best interest, you can take these steps to help ensure your employees receive sound financial information in a seminar:
- CHECK that the person who wants to talk to your employees is properly qualified to talk about early retirement issues.
- CONFIRM that the speaker has obtained all necessary approvals from his or her company to offer the early retirement seminar and that seminar and other sales materials have been approved as required.
- REVIEW seminar materials such as handouts, slides and speaker’s notes to identify red flags that suggest the content may be problematic.
- REFER seminar materials to FINRA if you are not comfortable with what you see.
Here is how you can put this checklist into practice.
FINRA Protects Investors
You have a partner in helping your employees make the most of their retirement assets. Our name is FINRA, the largest non-governmental securities regulator, and we oversee securities firms doing business in this country. We examine securities firms, write rules and enforce those rules and the federal securities laws. A major FINRA objective is investor protection. We believe that informing and educating the investing public helps individuals protect themselves.
When communicating with investors, including your employees, securities firms need to follow rules that are designed to protect the public from scams, irresponsible promises of future investment returns, and other improper communications. FINRA rules require that communications from securities firms and their personnel:
- Include no false, exaggerated, unwarranted or misleading statements or claims;
- Be fair and balanced and provide a sound basis to evaluate the facts regarding the product or service being offered;
- Not omit material facts that would cause the communication to mislead or contain legends or footnotes that would inhibit understanding of the communication;
- Make no predictions or projections of future performance, imply that past performance will recur, or make any exaggerated or unwarranted claim, opinion, or forecast about any investment; and
- Prominently disclose the name of the firm in the sales material.
FINRA reviews thousands of communications every year for compliance with the standards listed above. We tell the firm whether materials can be used as filed, need to be revised, or cannot be used.
TIP: If seminar material has been filed with FINRA, the firm or individual making the presentation should be able to tell you whether it was approved for use or not and show you FINRA’s review letter if you request it. Of course, not all sales material must be filed with FINRA and even communications that are not filed with FINRA may comply with the rules.
How You Can Protect Your Employees
You want your employees to make sound retirement decisions. If your company allows representatives of a firm to solicit your employees to attend retirement seminars, you can ask a few questions and take some simple steps to determine whether the seminar complies with applicable requirements.
- Broker Credentials: Individuals associated with FINRA-registered firms that deal with the public generally must have the appropriate license for the products that they sell. Ask the person(s) who will conduct the seminar what FINRA licenses or registrations they hold.
- Investment Adviser Registration: People or firms that give investment advice must register with the SEC if they manage $110 million or more in client assets or their state securities agency if they manage a lesser amount.
- Insurance Agent License: All insurance agents must be properly registered with their state insurance commission. Insurance agents selling variable annuities or variable insurance policies must also be registered with FINRA.
- Speaker’s Background: Confirm the information you receive by using FINRA BrokerCheck at www.FINRA.org, or checking with the SEC or appropriate state securities or insurance regulator. See below for links and other contact information.
- Firm Approval Procedures: FINRA-registered firms must approve the materials that will be used for a seminar. You can call the home or supervisory office of the firm to verify whether the materials were approved.
- Regulatory Approvals: Ask whether the materials were filed with FINRA. If so, consider requesting a copy of FINRA’s review letter. The firm should be able to provide it to you. If some other regulator is involved, ask the speaker about that regulator's approval process. Consider calling the regulator to confirm what you are told.
- Seminar Content: Ask to see seminar materials in advance. Information, both in the main text and footnotes, should be clear and complete. Materials should provide a sound basis for evaluating the products or services offered.
- Performance Projections: Seminar materials should not project the performance of investments. They should not suggest that past performance is an indication of future performance. Explanations of mathematical principles such as compounding or how tax-deferral works are acceptable. Any examples should indicate that they are hypothetical and not indicative of any specific investment may perform.
- Disclosure of Risks: All investments carry some risk. Presentations of products or investment strategies should include a balanced discussion of benefits and risks. Be wary of statements suggesting that an investment or strategy will lead to stability, safety, or peace of mind without explaining the risks. Without the downside, you do not have a balanced presentation.
- Promissory Images: Look for pictures or graphics that suggest investments will always be successful – dollar signs, money trees, cornucopias, pots of gold, bank vaults. FINRA rules prohibit this kind of imagery.
- Firm Identification: The firm sponsoring the seminar needs to identify itself clearly and prominently in the materials distributed to participants.
Protect Employees: If you are not satisfied with the timeliness or detail of the answers to your questions or you are concerned about the content of the seminar materials, you can make a referral of the seminar materials to FINRA for review.
How to Refer Seminar Materials to FINRA for Review
Please forward the seminar materials with the following information:
- Your company name and address
- Contact person at your company and telephone number
- Name of the firm(s) sponsoring the seminar
- Name of the individual(s) conducting the seminar
- Short description of your concerns
FINRA Investor Education
1735 K Street, NW
Washington, DC 20006-1506
If you have questions, call us at (202) 728-6964.
When FINRA gets your referral, we will:
- acknowledge receipt of the materials
- review according to FINRA rules and procedures and, if our review uncovers a problem, take appropriate action, including contacting the firm and/or individuals as necessary
- refer the matter to the appropriate regulator if FINRA has no jurisdiction
Please understand that, as a regulator, FINRA typically does not confirm or deny publicly what regulatory action we are taking. That means that once you make a referral to us you might not hear anything further from us.
You should know that not all retirement seminar sponsors or the individuals conducting them are registered with FINRA. We have jurisdiction over virtually all brokerage firms, their employees and associated persons. Registered Investment Advisers may be registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission or the state securities regulator where they conduct business. Insurance agents are licensed and regulated by state insurance commissions.
For brokers and investment adviser representatives, use FINRA BrokerCheck or call (800) 289-9999.
For registered investment advisers, you may also use SEC Investment Adviser Public Disclosure Database.
For an insurance agent, check with your state insurance regulator. Get contact information from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.
To find your state securities regulator, use the North American Securities Administrators Association or call (202) 737-0900.