Answer: Assessing and defining the needs of vulnerable clients has long been an issue in the financial services industry and remains an important topic today. According to the World Health Organisation, 15% of adults over the age of 60 will suffer from a mental disorder and two-thirds of British adults say they have experienced mental ill-health at some point in their lives.
To address this issue, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) launched a paper back in 2015 looking at consumer vulnerability. Through this paper, the regulator aimed to broaden the industry’s understanding around this issue and provide help and resources for firms looking to develop and implement an appropriate strategy.
Having this strategy in place is especially important for advisers and lenders operating in the equity release industry. The most popular age bracket to take out equity release products is between 65 and 74, and all of these customers are deemed to be vulnerable by the FCA.
As such, it is important that advisers know how to deal with vulnerable customers and to be on the lookout for any red flags that show the customer has been coerced in any way. Advisers also need to be constantly monitoring for any mental health issues, language difficulties or any indication that the customer has recently been through any life changing events (otherwise referred to as dynamic issues) such as divorce or experienced a bereavement.
At more 2 life, we have appointed a trained Customer Vulnerability Champion in order to promote greater awareness of these issues. Our call handlers are encouraged to obtain and clarify as much information over the phone from a customer if they deem the person to be in a vulnerable position. Whether the query has been resolved or not, all details and contact related to the case will be sent to the Customer Vulnerability Champion who will monitor the situation closely and make further contact if it is deemed necessary.
The recent Equity Release Council whitepaper reaffirms the fact that adviser education on dealing with potentially vulnerable older borrowers needs to be addressed, and that greater understanding needs to be introduced in the sector. Advisers should always be looking for the bigger picture and willing to challenge what a client says, if necessary.
Equity release is not a one-size-fits-all, tick-box exercise. As such, advisers have to be 100% sure that it is suitable for their clients. If speaking to a potentially vulnerable client, advisers should make sure they remain vigilant and look out for any warning signs. Above all, listen to the customer very carefully, and raise any concerns immediately with colleagues, senior management and compliance teams.