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Advisers urged to watch for signs of financial abuse

Advisers urged to watch for signs of financial abuse

Advisers carrying out annual reviews at the start of the year should be on the look-out for signs of financial abuse and vulnerability, a chartered financial planner has said.

David Hearne, director of London-based Satis Wealth, said his experience of volunteering and fundraising for domestic abuse charity Dash had alerted him to potential signs of financial abuse.

These could include situations where a couple is supposedly under advice for their joint financial affairs, but only one partner ever meets with the adviser, makes all the decisions and has all the financial control. 

He said: "Domestic abuse is so difficult for people to talk about but it is important that people like us who have access to individuals pay attention to certain signs and be on the lookout for economic abuse.

"Abuse is not always physical; it can also be mental or financial, by having one partner take control over all the household finances, limiting the choice of the abused partner to escape that situation.

"As advisers we have an opportunity when we meet clients or do reviews to being aware of certain signs."

Mr Hearne said he applauded the Chartered Institute of Securities and Investment for giving the Surviving Economic Abuse charity a stand at its conference last year, helping to raise awareness among wealth advisers and financial planners. 

In 2019, the CISI also worked alongside the Financial Planning Standards Board to publish a guidance practice note on vulnerability, called Advising Vulnerable Clients: Guidance for Financial Planning Professionals.

Jacqueline Lockie, chartered fellow of the CISI and head of financial planning for the body, said: "It is of vital importance that advisers and planners are always on the lookout for financial abuse. This can come in all sorts of forms, from only one partner attending meetings but also things like, if one client remains quiet and the other does all the talking during meetings or if one client answers all the questions you put to both of them."

Ms Lockie also commented: "We have heard of incidences where one spouse might give another an ‘allowance’ for food shopping for example.

"While one partner might not see that as significant the other partner might view that as being controlling and resentment could easily build. Some of our planners have told us that situations like this can be more common that people often think."

She added that financial abuse can also be detected when one partner experiences a life event and disengages with many issues in their life – this often includes financial issues, whereby they tend to abdicate all decision making to another party and do not sense check anything. Moreover, they can also be very easily persuaded to sign documents.

According to Ms Lockie: "Financial planners need to remind themselves who their client is in a particular situation. Giving advice jointly to couples means that both are your clients and both need to understand and be clear on what is happening."