“For instance, a life event such as a relationship breakdown or bereavement may lead to further vulnerability, such as mental ill-health or low resilience. This may be made worse if the customer has low or limited capability to manage their finances.”
Hamilton also stresses that it is important not to "badge" people: “While we refer to customers being in vulnerable circumstances, we don’t want to label customers as ‘vulnerable’.
"Instead, we focus on what harm or disadvantage customers may be vulnerable to and how we can support them.”
Sensitivity is key, as Conner observes: “While there are factors that advisers need to look out for that could potentially make a client vulnerable, it doesn't necessarily mean the client is, in fact, vulnerable.
"For example, some older clients take great offence at being considered vulnerable.”
With so much emphasis on the needs of vulnerable consumers, is it now easier for them to get the cover that they need?
Conner says: “There have been some slight improvements over the past few years, but there is still a long way to go.
“We've seen product development to cover more clients with diabetes and high BMIs, and clients with HIV may be accepted for life cover in the not-too-distant future. Hopefully there will be more progress in this area in the months and years to come.”
Some applicants may now also find it easier to get cover after making disclosures about mental health, as Chris Dunne, proposition manager at Scottish Widows, notes: “Through our work with Mental Health UK and from working towards the Association of British Insurers' mental health standards, we are able to offer standard terms to 85 per cent of these applicants.”
Conner says that the introduction of additional support services to policies has been beneficial for some vulnerable clients too: “This is a big and very welcome development over the past five years.
“For example, it may be that a client’s policy has an exclusion for back pain or mental health but they can still make use of some of the additional benefits on their plan, such as remote physiotherapy or counselling.
"So, despite the exclusion, the additional benefits on the plan can still be used right away, adding immediate value for the client.”
But there is more that providers could do, says adviser Phil Anderson of Phil Anderson Financial Services: “We had a client who had tried to commit suicide many years ago, who now can’t get insurance.
"Instead of ruling them out altogether, there could be an exclusion on the basis that no payout would be made if they were to commit suicide, but that the policy would pay out if they had a heart attack, for instance. This all comes back to treating customers fairly.”