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

A long email, for instance, can be difficult for clients to process if they have a cognitive disorder, and a meeting where an adviser can talk them through the information slowly may be more suitable.

Conversely, a client with a mental health condition or going through a difficult life event may have trouble concentrating in meetings, and a note of advice that they can take away and digest in their own time may be more useful. 

A client who is struggling with decision-making may need a series of smaller meetings, where the advice is broken down into small chunks and they are asked to make only one or two specific decisions each time.

A client who has difficulties implementing their decisions due to memory loss may need follow-up meetings or reminders from advisers.

One who struggles due to feeling overwhelmed and not knowing where to start may need a more detailed step plan from their advisers. 

On the other hand, if a client seems persistently reluctant to take the steps that they need to in order to implement a decision they have made, it is important for advisers to ensure that the decision is truly one they have made independently, and that they are happy with.

Undue influence

Vulnerability often, unfortunately, comes hand in hand with undue influence, namely where vulnerable clients are subject to pressure from a third party to make decisions they may not have made otherwise.

Guarding against undue influence can be difficult, particularly when so many vulnerable clients can benefit from the support of third parties, such as family members and carers.

The role of advisers is to strike the right balance between involving third parties in order to empower clients, while ensuring that these third parties are not dominating the conversation and drowning out the client’s own voice. 

The Law Society provides a helpful case study of an elderly client, who wishes to sell her property and move into her son’s house.

She has told her advisers that she would also like to pay for an extension to his house.

This is not, in and of itself, evidence of undue influence.

However, because of the client’s advanced age and vulnerable position, her adviser should take additional steps to safeguard against potential undue influence.

These steps include having in-person meetings with the client, without any third parties present, to confirm her independent instructions.

At these meetings, advisers should explain the implications of the decision, suggest options to protect her position – for example, having her acquire a beneficial interest in the property – and provide a safe space for her to express if she has felt pressured into the decision.

The focus here is on empowering clients, and not on taking away their agency to make decisions.