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  • Non-profit AARP recently deployed a special training programme to help prevent financial exploitation of those 50 and older, scaling empathy in the process.
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AARP is used to solving big problems for its members. Advocacy work by the non-profit - one of the largest membership organizations in the world with 38 million members - tackles everything from affordable healthcare to hunger.

The group recently took on retirement savings, but rather than worry just about helping seniors put more savings into their accounts, AARP worked to train frontline staff at banks and credit unions to take on the multibillion-dollar problem of financial exploitation.

The training, called BankSafe, took years to develop and the platform included interactive videos and real-life scenarios that gave staff the confidence to ask probing questions and take the quick action needed to stop exploitation.

More crucially, the training built empathy for vulnerable seniors - key to motivating staffers to tackle a problem that can devastate people's finances and sense of self worth. The platform "really showed me how we can scale empathy", said Debra Whitman, AARP's Chief Public Policy Officer.

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Seeing the whole person is often a key first step in problem solving, said Whitman. "I do spend a lot of time with numbers as an economist. but I do think that the heart of the matter is the individual that's affected by those numbers."

AARP partnered with the Virginia Tech Center for Gerontology to better understand the effectiveness of the training. According to a six-month study by the centre, the BankSafe training saved consumers and financial institutions almost $1 million in preventing financial exploitation before the money leaves the account.

During the Center's research, staffers saved 16 times more money for customers than those in a control group.

Frequency of Action Steps Involved in Suspected Incidents in which Money Was Saved for All Participants
Image: AARP BankSafe: Training Financial Professionals To Prevent Financial Exploitation

Meet the Leader caught up with Whitman, a co-chair of the World Economic Forum's Global Future Council on Longevity, to learn about the challenges facing older populations and how empathy can help identify and tackle big problems. Hosted by editor Linda Lacina, these bi-weekly podcast interviews dive into the habits and qualities leaders depend on the most - the ones that truly underpin great change.

Highlights of this episode:

A new habit she swears by: Meditation. Before the pandemic, Whitman spent a fair amount of time on airplanes, but COVID lockdowns gave her the chance to focus in new ways. Taking aside time - even 15 minutes - to meditate has helped her react to changes in new ways. "It has really been transformative in my ability to react to things, my ability to be a good parent, a better boss."

A book she thinks everyone should read: Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism. Whitman is writing a book about the second half of life and recently dug into this book uncovering a range of surprising shifts for life expectancy, including the fact that men at the top 1% of income live 15 years longer than men at the bottom. Such facts show how income inequality has paved the way for life inequality, driving gaps in the amount of time certain people can spend on Earth with their families. This "under-the-radar" idea of life-inequality, says Whitman, has impacted our politics and understanding it can help anyone understand how many see their future.

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