Expert Q&A

Q&A: Skip Humphrey takes on role as financial watchdog for elderly


The eldest son of the former vice president sees credit card debt among the elderly as one of the issues he’ll tackle in his new job with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

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At an age when most of us would be kicking back on Golden Pond, Hubert H. “Skip” Humphrey III is unpacking on the Potomac to serve as the newly appointed director of the Office for Older Americans within the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Hubert H. ‘Skip’ Humphrey III
Q&A: Skip Humphrey takes role as federal financial watchdog for elderly

The eldest son of former Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, “Skip” Humphrey has decided to extend his own public service career by agreeing to head the Office for Older Americans within the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Humphrey, the eldest son of former Vice President Hubert Humphrey, was a natural choice as chief senior defender, having served as a two-term Minnesota attorney general, longtime state senator, and AARP state chapter president and national board member.

While his Congressional mandate charges him with protecting Americans 62 and over, Humphrey’s holistic approach recognizes that the whole family has a role to play to prevent seniors from falling prey to unfair, deceptive and abusive financial practices. Congratulations on your new job.

Skip Humphrey: Thank you very much. Let’s just call it a whirlwind, how’s that? At age 69, it seems you’ve chosen the Potomac over Golden Pond.

Humphrey: (Laughs) I’m not ready to give up yet, but I must say, when the opportunity arose, my wife and I did kind of look each other in the eye and say, are we ready to do this again? We both agreed we were. It’s a great opportunity and a very, very important responsibility. This is a time when seniors need help; they need understanding and education and information. And I hope that our office here can be of help to them in some of the sometimes challenging decisions they have to make financially. Your background seems ideally suited to your new position.

Humphrey: When the opportunity did arise, I really felt like, goodness, this is what I’ve been trying to do a good part of my life. The opportunity to serve the public once again, and particularly at the national level, is a very special thing and I take it as a very special charge. What’s the one thing Americans don’t know about elder financial abuse?

Humphrey: As people age, their needs change, and many times become even greater in terms of the help that is needed. On the other hand, there are a lot of people who are very interested in providing that assistance and support. It’s become the $3 billion secret that nobody wants to discuss, least of all the seniors who fall victim to fraud and abuse.

Humphrey: One of the things that our office is very committed to is helping through education and support to give people the courage to speak out, because when people do speak out, then others hear the message and say, “Oh, you know what? That happened to me and I need to do something about that.” The good news about seniors is, they’re very committed. Older people are trusting in one sense, but they also are committed to each other, they understand that they need each other and so they’re willing to help. But you have to help them have that courage to speak up and speak out. How has your experience with AARP informed your plans for the Office for Older Americans?

Humphrey: I do think that by volunteering, both for my local school district and with AARP, I really found that the value of peer-to-peer help and assistance, being there with people, is very, very important. That, I think, is going to help understand what this office is all about, which is working with others, working with groups that are already out there doing good and great things, and making sure that we are supporting and enhancing those efforts with a federal presence. I think that’s really what this office is all about. Credit card issues are likely to hit the radar of every department at the CFPB on one level or another. How does credit card debt impact older Americans?

Humphrey: You raise a very good point. Let’s look at this from what has been the past credit card experience of seniors. When credit cards first came around, you used it for very special, usually short-term purchases. Now, with the Internet, more and more people are using credit cards for a wide variety of purposes, and all too often, they’re now being used by seniors of very limited resources for very essential items. Taking into account their perhaps unfamiliarity with the Internet, the expanding availability of credit through credit cards and the sophistication of those who would abuse the people and systems, you have the potential for a very, very troubling situation. Especially around the holidays.

It is important that people use their credit cards smartly. Make sure that you’re not making your information available to those who would steal the numbers and steal your identity.

Humphrey: It is important that people use their credit cards smartly. Make sure that you’re not making your information available to those who would steal the numbers and steal your identity. If you know how to go online, do so and watch what is happening to your credit card account, and do that frequently. It sounds like Internet 101 may be part of your office’s curriculum.

Humphrey: Helping seniors become more comfortable and knowledgeable about Internet use, especially around financial transactions, I think is crucial. It’s interesting: I’m fairly comfortable on the Internet, but there are even times when I have to check. Are you generally encouraged that new regulations have put a halt to abusive credit card practices, or do we still have a ways to go?

Humphrey: One of the things I’m very interested in here at the CFPB is to make sure that, as research is done by this agency and as rules and regulations are developed, that there be a sensitivity to senior issues. The other part of this is, outside of this agency, there are some wonderful people, wonderful organizations, both at the state and local level, in government and in the nonprofit world that are doing very, very good work in the area of consumer education, and with a particular focus on seniors. We’re going to try to bring that together, to develop a mighty partnership, in which a federal presence complements the good work that is already being done. That will help Americans have a better understanding of how they can get the information and bring about a heightened level of financial literacy as the market changes and becomes more complex. You’ve also made a point to address the unique needs of senior women.

Humphrey: The reality is, a significant number of women are at or below the poverty line, so there is a financial challenge and burden that is even greater than men after age 65. Many are now living single, so here you have the challenge of meeting daily needs. They’re going to live longer than men, and at the same time, they become more vulnerable in the sense that they probably have the resources that are remaining, if any, in a family relationship. Certainly, those who would like to take advantage of that know exactly who the targets are. The baby boom presents an enormous target.

The reality is, a significant number of women are at or below the poverty line, so there is a financial challenge and burden that is even greater than men after age 65.

Humphrey: Yes, we hear, “The baby boom is here,” like it’s a static thing. It’s not. Guess what: We’re here and we’re going to be here for the next 20 years. And the needs that all of us have are going to change over those 20 years and a significant portion of the financial transactions that will be made, a good part of it related to health care, come in the last part of people’s lives. So there’s going to be a real need to have that kind of assistance.

And it’s not just seniors who need to be sensitized to the scams and con artists and elder abuse; it’s those informal caregivers who help seniors. This office needs to take into account how to help the next generation support the important decisions that seniors are going to make. How is the chemistry at CFPB so far?

Humphrey: For me, personally, this is just a very special charge. I’ve been so pleased to learn about the people at this agency and the passion that is here to do the right thing. It is nothing short of phenomenal and I’m excited to be a part of that. We’ve had the pleasure to chat with Holly Petraeus, who heads the CFPB’s office for military service members, and she means business.

Humphrey: Yes, and I see our two areas overlapping considerably because so many of the service members are also retired; they’re older Americans, too. So a lot of what I’m going to be doing will be dovetailing into the efforts that she is already taking on very successfully. Is there a prime directive for your first year at the helm?

Humphrey: The top priority for me is first, to listen carefully to seniors and those who are already deeply involved in this area. That’s No. 1 personally for me. For our office here, I think it is very important that we bring together the information, the data, and understand the role that we can play as a federal presence. We have one other obligation that I think is unique, which is to make sure that those advisers who are out there that claim to be specialists for senior citizens, that have a certification or designation, we’re charged by Congress to monitor that to make sure that those who make those claims are actually well-trained and have certifications that have special value and meaning.

See related: Your new financial watchdog: What it is, what it can do

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