No-Free-Lunch Seminars for Seniors

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Economists like to joke about free lunches. The subtext is that there’s a cost to everything.

A free lunch is also literally how high-pressure financial companies sometimes lure older Americans into a room to hear their investment pitches. The FINRA Investor Education Foundation says some 6 million older Americans have attended seminars in return for a free lunch. Every year, my mother’s retirement community outside of Orlando hosts a handful of these seminars, which are presented by financial firms, insurance companies, and even funeral homes.

FINRA warns that they can pressure seniors into making “unsuitable, even fraudulent investments.” The above FINRA video explains what’s behind the free-lunch presentations and proposes some questions that people can ask to determine the legitimacy of what’s being sold.

But it’s probably better to do what my mom does: find something fun to do instead.

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Good post and video. Seniors are attractive targets because they typically have lots of free time, are raised to be polite and trusting, and many have money. Even if a salesman claims to be affiliated with a legitimate company, it pays to check for yourself. I get these free lunch or dinner invitations occasionally. They go straight into the trash. I think to myself, “if this is such a great deal, why are you telling me about it?”


Even if a salesman claims to be affiliated with a legitimate company, it pays to check for yourself.

sam wc

My wife and I attend at least five of these free dinners yearly. At the end of these dinners, I always write on the questionnaire, “Thank you for an informative presentation and fine dinner. At this time, we will continue to use our current financial advisor.” They never call me back. In addition, I always learn at least one item I did not know and have a fun time.

Dave G.

I wonder when financial seminar providers will be governed by rules similar to what CMS requires for meetings about Medicare Advantage and Medicare Drug plans? It could be a good step in the right direction.

CMS specifies two meeting types: Educational and Sales. Neither can provide a “meal” and limited to snacks or beverages only. Average cost paid by the sponsor per attendee cannot exceed $15 on average, inclusive of door prizes or freebies. And both types are subject to CMS “secret shoppers” who may attend to monitor compliance.

Educational meetings must avoid any specific product mentions or promotions, providing generic/general info only. Meeting sponsors can introduce themselves, but cannot even hand out brochures or business cards. Attendees do not sign in nor can they be required to leave call back information unless they specifically approach the sponsor and ask for follow up contact.

Sales meetings must be filed in advance with CMS and prospective attendees told in advance that sales representatives will be present. Sales meetings allow for plan specific info, brochures and other product materials.

Seminar sponsors don’t have to wait for regulations to change how they operate. It may actually be a more effective (and less expensive) way to reach prospective clients.

Mark Zoril

Nice post. Advisors use Seminar Selling to grow their business. As far as the video goes, in my experience, most of the seminars promote highly regulated products, it is just the sales tactics and ploys and lame and not transparent. They want to raise doubts that people have about their current investments. Many of these are used to pump products and solutions and are light on education. Sure, you can learn some things at these, but don’t be naive about what is going on.

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