What to do if your client is vulnerable

  • Explain how adviser services should meet need of vulnerable clients
  • Identify the different ways advisers should communicate
  • Explain how advisers should help clients who lack the capacity to make a decision
 What to do if your client is vulnerable
  (Matthias Zomer/Pexels)

We discussed in a previous article how to spot the warning signs of vulnerability in your clients.

The question that then arises is what should be done once concerns of vulnerability or indeed loss of capacity have been identified.

The Financial Conduct Authority and the Law Society have both published guidance on advising vulnerable clients, and from this guidance two main themes emerge.

First, as far as possible, advisers should seek to empower vulnerable clients to make their own decisions.

This means advisers should, as a first step, put in place accommodations to address the struggles that vulnerable clients face when accessing their services. 

Second, supporting vulnerable clients is not a tick-box exercise, but one that should be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

It is important to consider the nature of the client’s vulnerability, establish the impact it has on the client’s functioning and implement safeguards that address the specific difficulties. 

Access to services

The first step in empowering vulnerable clients is improving accessibility to your services.

This means not just physical access to offices, but also addressing more subtle issues that vulnerable clients may face.

It is worth considering the modes of communication that would be easier for your client, the timing and location of communications, and whether and how third parties can be involved in order to support your clients.

For example, some elderly clients may struggle with using the internet, and often rely on children or carers to deal with their email correspondence.

If an adviser relies solely on email to communicate with this client, all their advice will be communicated via the lens of a third party.

The client may therefore not be receiving the most clear and unbiased report, and may find it difficult to ask questions.

An adviser should therefore consider arranging in-person meetings with the client at regular intervals, to go through their advice and answer the client’s questions directly. 

Other similar issues to consider are whether there can be flexibility around appointment times, how long they last and where they take place.

Some clients may be more comfortable at home, whereas others need the neutral and professional space of an office environment in order to focus on complex information and make potentially difficult decisions. 

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to accessibility. The key thing for advisers is to be sensitive to vulnerable clients’ needs, and if necessary to ask questions about what would make it easier for them to access your services.

Providing the service

Each vulnerable client is different, and the way in which you provide your service needs to be tailored to their specific needs. 

A client who struggles to understand the information being communicated may need to have meetings broken down into smaller parts, to give them time to process the information and ask questions.

They may need to have information presented in different formats.