Opinion  

Finding the right adviser is crucial when you are vulnerable

Ben Goss

Ben Goss

Recently, a friend asked for my advice.

Her uncle had died suddenly a few months earlier and her aunt had found herself in possession of a large amount of money, with no idea of how to manage it. 

The couple had no children and had lived modest lives, so they had steadily amassed wealth over the years – from salaries, from an employer share programme and from other share purchases. 

The uncle was highly organised, with a good grasp of finance, so had always looked after the money. He had enjoyed researching and making investments, so had not used a financial adviser. 

Prior to his death, his careful choices meant the couple had been in a very secure situation. Overnight, and unexpectedly, the aunt had become extremely vulnerable. 

My friend’s uncle had done everything right: he had maintained excellent records and, in case of his death, had left instructions about how to access the information. But his wife had never paid a bill or used online banking, let alone managed a complex portfolio of savings, shares and other assets. 

She was also quite isolated, with most of her family living overseas, and was reliant on friends and neighbours to help her navigate her new circumstances. My friend was concerned that this meant a lot of people were aware of both her aunt’s financial position and her lack of understanding, leaving her open to exploitation. She was keen to find an adviser for her aunt, but did not know where to begin. 

I am often asked this question, and in very similar circumstances. People frequently come to financial advice at the most challenging times of their lives. They may be handling a lot of administrative tasks at once, as well as grief and other difficult emotions. At times like this, it is not easy to know who to trust. 

While services such as VouchedFor and Unbiased have sought to plug the gap, people are – understandably – often reluctant to place their confidence in an adviser without a personal recommendation. Indeed, asking friends and family is still the Financial Conduct Authority’s first suggestion to people wondering how to find advice. 

My first takeaway from my conversation with my friend, therefore, is that there must be more our industry can do, both to reach people when they are not at points of crisis and to help people find the right adviser in times of need. My second is something the FCA is also focusing on with its new consumer duty: that helping vulnerable people is an important part of the adviser’s role, and one that warrants special care. 

Consumer duty

The regulator set out guidance for the fair treatment of vulnerable customers back in February 2021, with the goal of ensuring that vulnerable consumers experience fair treatment and achieve outcomes that are as good as those of their non-vulnerable peers.