Firing line  

Why I'm setting up an emergency financial advice service

Why I'm setting up an emergency financial advice service

In times of crisis, it is easy to feel helpless, especially when the government advice is to stay at home, as it has been during the Covid-19 outbreak.

But there are those who have felt inspired to step up their efforts and offer a helping hand to those that need it most during the pandemic.

One of these is Billy Burrows, retirement director at Better Retirement Group, who has set up Emergency Financial Advice (emergencyfinancialadvice.org), which went live on April 27, after witnessing global stock markets plunge in March and April.

It is a free telephone service manned by financial advisers for anyone over the age of 50.

He says that when people visit the website they are invited to book a call, which will be allocated on a geographical basis to one of the more than 50 financial advisers who have volunteered.

Mr Burrows explains: “What we’re saying is IFAs are going to give people a free, no-strings-attached discussion. And it’s not advice, it’s not guidance – it’s purely a discussion.

“At the end of the discussion, we envisage the adviser doing one of three things: if they can’t help, they will signpost the client to the appropriate organisation or agency. So, for example, if someone were worried about debt, it might be Citizens Advice.

“If the person really is vulnerable or low income, the adviser will use their discretion and will offer ‘pro bono’ free advice. 

“If the client wants advice and can afford it, then they will move over into the advice process with a view to [the adviser] charging a modest fee.”

The advisers are referring to Unbiased.co.uk’s cost of advice calculator as a benchmark for fees.

‘Overwhelming’ response

While Mr Burrows admits he thought he was “mad” to take on this task, the easiest part has been finding advisers willing to help.

“People were saying: ‘We’ve been thinking about trying to do this at a local level and it would be better to do it in a more formal and organised way’,” he says.

“The response from IFAs has been overwhelming.”

Among the over 50s who can use the free service, he identified two groups who are likely to have more immediate needs during the pandemic.

“First, the group that is approaching retirement, who might be worried about the effect of falling markets on their pension pots, and then the other group will be those in later life, who might be worried about wills, lasting powers of attorney or later life financial planning.”

Mr Burrows says he expects advisers who are answering enquiries will field a range of questions.

“The questions I envisage people asking [are]: ‘I’m thinking of retiring, do I need to change my retirement plans?’; ‘My funds have fallen, what action should I take?’; or ‘I’m in pension drawdown, should I think about buying an annuity?’” he says.