Business / Corporate

Japan's financial firms grapple with how to support customers affected by dementia

JIJI

Financial institutions are starting to implement measures to address issues related to their graying customer base — particularly, a growing number of dementia sufferers — to help them better manage their finances.

According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, elderly people hold 60 percent of individual financial assets, totaling some ¥1,800 trillion, and number of aging dementia sufferers is projected to grow to 7.3 million by 2025 from 5.25 million in 2015.

Dai-ichi Life Research Institute estimates that the share of financial assets held by dementia patients will top 10 percent by 2030. As part of the effort to deal withe the situation, banks, securities firms and insurance companies are accelerating efforts to nurture personnel with knowledge about dementia and how best to support such customers. Bank workers, for example, need to assess whether customers are capable of making reasonable decisions.

Currently, older people diagnosed as having dementia are not allowed to make agreements with financial institutions without being accompanied by family members or guardians.

Due to the restrictions, difficulties tend to occur when dementia sufferers withdraw money or cancel bank accounts. Also, there have been cases in which customers with cognitive impairments have purchased high-risk foreign bonds.

Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp. and others are now instructing employees to make sure that elderly customers suspected of having dementia are accompanied by family members when they visit branches.

“It’s important to communicate and interact with customers across generations, instead of pursuing immediate profits,” said Toshiharu Ueki, a senior Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Bank official, who is in charge of training employees.

Senior financial planner Kanae Taya urged financial institutions not to recommend to elderly customers complicated products that they and their families do not understand.

Taya also suggests taking precautionary measures, such as making “proxy cards” for withdrawing money from the bank accounts of elderly relatives.