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“The demand for daily money management services is only going to increase as Boomers retire and age, so we are taking steps now to make sure that we are in a position to capitalize on that demand.”

Christopher J. DesBarres, CFO of Help Unlimited has created a business around helping senior citizens manage their money. Help Unlimited provides daily money management services to senior citizens — helping seniors and their families tackle day-to-day financial chores. They assist with tasks like sorting the mail, paying bills, tracking medical claims, and keeping important tax documents organized.

They are proud to be the company that keeps senior citizens safe in cases of fraud or exploitation. Help Unlimited is currently in two locations, and they are excited to expand to more.

Christopher J. DesBarres, CFO of Help Unlimited

MO: Why is a company like Help Unlimited an absolute necessity?

Chris: We all have those daily chores that we have to take care of to keep the household running: making sure that the electricity bill gets paid, disputing an erroneous charge on a phone bill, or keeping track of important financial documents for tax time. As we age, these tasks can become more difficult. We might start having trouble with our eyesight, or a more serious cognitive impairment like dementia or short-term memory loss. Fortunately, many seniors have family that they can rely on to help them manage their daily finances.

Other seniors, however, do not have family that is able to help or for whom the demands just become too much. And when these things fall apart, they can have disastrous consequences, both financial and emotional. We are able to step in and help families stay on top of their finances. In the past, we have not only helped clients save money by avoiding late fees, interest, and penalties, but also we have helped them recover funds they were due from insurance reimbursements or pensions and annuities that had stopped arriving.

MO: What can individuals looking after their parents or grandparents do to make sure they keep their loved ones safe from fraud?

Chris: Discussing someone’s personal finances is taboo in our culture, which makes protecting your loved ones more difficult. The crucial first step is breaking down that wall and creating an environment of trust with your parents or grandparents. Encourage seniors to maintain a healthy skepticism and to give you a call if something does not seem quite right. Keep an eye out for uncharacteristic purchases or transactions that do not match a senior’s abilities – for example, if your parents have been notorious penny-pinchers throughout the years and go on a sudden spending binge, this is a sign that something might be amiss. Similarly, if you know your parent has mobility issues but the bank statements show several ATM withdrawals, you should inquire further.

And all seniors should place what is known as a “credit freeze” on their credit reports. The most damaging act of identity theft is for someone to open credit in your name. Fortunately, this is also the easiest to prevent. The credit bureaus allow you to place a “security freeze” on your credit file. What this means is that no new lines of credit can be opened in your name (existing lines are not affected). So, even if someone were to obtain your name, social security number, date of birth, etc., they still would not be able to open any new credit cards or apply for any loans. The credit bureaus will give you a PIN that you can use to unfreeze your credit if need be. In many states, it is free for seniors to place and remove freezes.

MO: You are now the second generation of owners for this company. Where do you see the future of Help Unlimited going?

Chris: This is an exciting time for our company and our industry. Since we are seeing a marked increase in demand for daily money management services, not only is our company growing, but also new daily money managers are springing up all over the country.

At Help Unlimited, we are fortunate to now serve both the Metro Washington DC and central North Carolina areas. We anticipate strong growth in both of these markets, and we will also be looking for additional opportunities in other geographic areas. The demand for daily money management services is only going to increase as Boomers retire and age, so we are taking steps now to make sure that we are in a position to capitalize on that demand.

MO: Can you walk us through the client experience for Help Unlimited? Do you work for your clients on a daily basis, do you handle it all at the end of the month, what kind of customer service can they expect?

Chris: One of the great benefits of working with our company is that we are able to customize the work and schedule for each of our clients. For clients who need simple help with sorting the mail, paying bills, and staying organized, we might visit them once or twice a month. Other clients want to see someone every week, especially if there are a lot of medical bills or other confusing items. Still others we only see quarterly or even once a year at tax time.

Our staff is the key to our excellent customer service. We purposefully target our recruiting efforts towards attracting retirees and stay-at-home parents who not only have a great deal of flexibility in their schedules to accommodate our clients, but also bring invaluable real-world experience from a variety of fields. Our staff members have come from industries such as financial management, social work, the military, and teaching. Because of that diversity, our company has a great body of knowledge that each of our staff members can draw upon for each of our clients. We also carefully screen our clients not only for their skills and abilities, but also for their “fit” in working with the senior population. Simply, you have to be passionate about working with seniors to work at Help Unlimited. And it shows – our staff love their jobs, and our clients often grow very close with their representative.

MO: What in your background has prepared you to lead Help Unlimited?

Chris: I don’t think my wife, who is the CEO, and I could do this without each other. Amanda brings a decade of daily money management experience to our company, and she is certainly one of our industry’s shining stars. It is hard to find someone else in the industry who knows more about daily money management than Amanda.

My background is a little different. After I graduated from college, I accepted a position as an intelligence officer with the Department of Defense. I was fortunate to see and experience many great things, such as deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as a two-year tour at working in the White House Situation Room. While at DoD, I also directed a program analyzing various terrorist organizations. That management experience, especially on the human resources side, has proved invaluable. Once Amanda and I decided to strike out on our own, I wanted to obtain some formal business training, so I recently completed my MBA at Wake Forest University.

The key to our success is how complementary our strengths are to each other. Amanda is terrific at tackling details, sorting out complex client situations, and getting things done. I tend to focus more on bigger picture items and company strategy. We are both able to see sides to issues and challenges that we would miss on our own. Plus, we have fun working together and it has been a wonderfully special part of our marriage.

MO: You have many testimonials on your site. Can you tell us about one of the success stories of Help Unlimited?

Chris: Earlier this year, one of our representatives started working with a new client. As our staff member went through the paperwork, she noticed that our client had some un-cashed checks from an annuity dated several years prior. For whatever reason, the client had simply not deposited them. Our staff member got in touch with the issuer and found that they had stopped sending the checks because so many had gone un-cashed, and the proceeds were being held in an escrow account. It took some convincing, but our staff member arranged for the issuer to send a lump-sum payment for what was owed to the client…in the amount of $312,000. She also arranged for the direct deposit of future payments so that this would no longer be an issue.

Needless to say, this was a life-changing event for our client and a real “feel-good” moment for us!

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