Firing line  

How to help keep the equity release market moving

How to help keep the equity release market moving

Two months ago, Stuart Wilson and his team at More 2 Life were planning a trip to the 38th floor of the Gherkin to hold an all-day event for advisers.

Instead, as a result of the coronavirus outbreak and subsequent social distancing rules, the all-day event moved online.

But Mr Wilson, who is marketing director for the equity release lender, says the change of location did not lessen the interest of attendees, as a higher-than-expected number of people confirmed they would attend. This is, he says, is down to the interest in the sessions, particularly the one on vulnerability.

Identifying the vulnerable

A study last year by the lender found that although advisers said in the preceding three months the number of vulnerable customers they had seen were few in number, the same group admitted it was not easy to spot a vulnerable individual.

In his role within the B2B side of KR Group, Mr Wilson is responsible for the marketing strategy for More 2 Life.

He says: “We are seeing more consumers interested in equity release, and more advisers looking to offer that service in one shape or form. They might offer the advice themselves or refer to a specialist.

“As more consumers come into the marketplace we need to be more mindful that we maintain the high standards we have adopted on the subject of vulnerability, particularly because as an industry we deal with customers in a vulnerable age group of 55-plus and the Financial Conduct Authority is shining a bright light on it.”

In the FCA’s Financial Lives survey in 2018, the City regulator estimated that half of all adults display at least one of the four characteristics that could make them vulnerable.

“So half of the adult UK population are potentially vulnerable. Once you narrow that down to the over 55s, it is likely it is higher than that,” Mr Wilson says.

“The one really important thing to remember when it comes to vulnerable clients is the FCA does not say we should not advise them. That’s the danger; where some advisers might think they should not go near a customer who is vulnerable, the FCA actually says to act with due care towards that customer.”

And now Covid-19 is estimated to make more people vulnerable to mental health problems, emotional problems and financial worries, which could be heightened where they may not be financially literate.

Mr Wilson says: “People can get very good at masking things, even from loved ones and immediate family members. 

“It makes it immensely difficult for advisers to spot that, so we will never get to 100 per cent – but as an industry we can raise the quality bar and get better at helping advisers spot vulnerability and deal with it and take the appropriate levels of care, which is what the FCA is really focused on.”

Another big challenge Mr Wilson sees is how the industry is going to adapt digitally to meet the needs of customers at a time when social distancing rules are putting a halt to face-to-face meetings.