The results of our most recent iteration of the ‘Temperature Check’ we carry out on equity release providers seems to show this in abundance with a significant number of changes in the last six months of 2021.
Providers such as One Family, for instance, who had not featured heavily prior to the last six months appeared to find their service feet and made a concerted move up the league table in terms of such process-driven aspects as ease of application, speed of pre/post-offer, communication and online service, but also in terms of whether an adviser would recommend them and whether they go the extra mile.
It’s this combination of the tangible speed-focused factors and less tangible ‘feels’ that can set a provider apart, and this is clearly something that this provider in particular has been working on.
Now, other providers might suggest, ‘Well they don’t carry out as much business as us’, and while factually correct it shouldn’t really be a factor in terms of the way they are processing business, the way they are dealing with advisers and their clients, and the overall service they deliver.
Admittedly, the period covered by this latest tracker – H2 2021 – was one in which providers would have been dealing with large numbers of cases in less than ideal circumstances. Staff continuing to work remotely, with other stakeholders in the same situation, and other factors such as the stamp duty holiday deadline, also making their impact felt.
However, as a number of advisers have recently pointed out, the ‘excuse’ of Covid-induced service problems doesn’t tend to wash as much as it might have done in the past.
Bigger picture around growth of later life market
Now, of course, service issues are often temporary and can be turned around in double-quick time; however they may also leave a lasting sour taste in the mouth, and shape what happens next in terms of future business.
There is however a bigger picture here to look at and it’s one that focuses on the need for service continuity and excellence in order to deal with the anticipated increase in overall later life business we anticipate will come.
We talk much in the later life sector – particularly in equity release – about the potential this market has and how we want to see it develop from a near £5bn lending market to one that is comfortably double that.
However, providers in this space are going to have to find a way to manage the influx in business in order to deal with increased transactions. 2021 was of course a challenging year for all manner of reasons, but you’d really want to see our sector being able to comfortably show how it coped with that busy period, and how it now has the foundations to deal with increase upon increase of activity.
Certainly, some providers appear to have it more than right in terms of their service offering, while others might need to look at where they might not have hit the mark, how they stop that happening again, and where they require extra resource in order to cope with what might be coming over the horizon.
Strong demand is one thing as is demographic and societal shifts meaning later life products are much more front and centre for advisers now. But that business needs to be serviced effectively – in that sense, we’ll continue to work with providers to ensure those standards remain high and to highlight where work might be required. It’s an industry problem that will need to be solved with industry answers.