Has it been harder adapting to the pandemic as a smaller firm?
As a smaller company we feel it has been easier to adapt during the pandemic. We have been able to be nimble and change from mainly face to face meetings with clients to using Zoom and the telephone when required.
We have also been able to enhance how we identify vulnerable clients and provide support to our advisers to ensure that the service offered to all our clients, whilst being remote, has not been compromised.
Have the type of cases and reasons for borrowing you are seeing changed in the last year?
Absolutely, the reasons for borrowing have increased and now there are between seven and ten core reasons that clients take out a lifetime mortgage.
These now, more so than ever, include helping family on to the property ladder especially due to the stamp duty holiday, moving home, re-financing existing interest only mortgages and replacing lost income for clients and their families due to unemployment and the effects of the pandemic.
The FCA has taken a distinct interest in the lifetime mortgage advice sector but largely looked at the largest firms. Do you agree with its findings so far?
I do support the fact that suitability reports need to be a lot more succinct and that clients should not be given documents that repeat many things that have already been given to them.
Instead, they should have a report that explains the recommendation in a way that they understand, and whereby they can clearly see the reasons for the loan, consideration of immediate and future situation and overall suitability.
I feel that the industry does need to deal with certain issues, and therefore we work hard with the Equity Release Council to implement change and raise standards.
We have been integral to the development of the new competency framework which gives new advisers coming in the industry the help to get up to speed and operate in the correct way.
This will help to maintain the great improvements that the industry has made over the last few years in terms of perception. But it is important not to stop there.
What else are you involved in?
The difference in the advice fee paid by clients from company to company is far too wide for our liking and so we will look to link into work the council is doing to tackle this problem.
We have also proposed to the council that the number of client guarantees within these sorts of plans – it is solely the no negative equity guarantee at present – need to be increased and we have taken time out as a company to table this as an improvement for the industry.
We have proposed for example that certain features from plans on the market are added as guarantees to all plans going forward and therefore providing greater consumer protection.
We are currently working with the council on this project through our adviser Liz Murley.
The reason that I point these issues and solutions out are to show others in the industry that you do not have to work for a bigger company to get your views heard.
Is there anything the larger firms can learn from smaller ones, and vice versa?
The larger firms do a great job of advertising our market to the wider public and this in turn creates interest in what we do, but sometimes they can lose the personal touch on the client’s journey through the equity release process.
With smaller firms, there is usually one point of contact all the way through to completion and I love that about our company.
As a smaller firm it is all about the client and their journey, which I feel is much harder to replicate once you are above a certain size.