How to have difficult conversations with clients

This article is part of
Guide to advising clients with mental ill health

Ms Cura agrees this approach can work for some people: "A lot of people with mental health conditions feel they may be judged by the adviser and insurer, which can be why they don’t want to discuss their health and maybe want to complete application forms themselves."

However, she adds: "This has been possible for a couple of years and it can work well for some people, but we do not like to use this route, because without knowing their mental health history, it is not possible to advise on which insurer is going to be right for them."

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This is why, when it comes to specific client needs, such as protection insurance, it is also helpful for the adviser to introduce mental health gently into the fact-finding process. 

Mr Wilkinson says: "In many situations an adviser will not be aware that a client has a mental health condition when they begin their conversations about protection insurance. Asking about health conditions should be part of the fact finding and if the adviser explains why this is important, then it provides the adviser with a chance to mention mental health before the client does.

"A good thing to say to a client at this point might be: 'When it comes to mental health disclosures, some clients are happy to discuss their mental health with an adviser but others would prefer not to have to speak to anyone and we/I can work either way with our clients, depending on their preference'.

"By using this approach you are giving the client control while introducing mental health into the protection conversation."

Avoid assumptions, ask questions and listen

Glen Carnall, team leader at Cavendish Online, advocates approaching difficult questions and vulnerable clients in the same way: "with openness, empathy and understanding."

The team, which advises on pensions, investments and protection, says the adviser cannot "shy away" from asking the difficult questions as these are intrinsic to the advice process. 

However, Mr Carnall adds: "Empathise and let the customer speak freely. Understand there are different degrees of mental health issues, so you can’t have a one-size-fits-all approach to helping those with disclosures of this nature."

He also advocates frequency of communication: "I also try to help them feel in control of the process throughout by being a bit more hands on – especially if there are long delays [with a provider], I tend to check in weekly or more frequently to reassure certain customers.”

Ms Knowles says it is important to "not make assumptions". Many of Cura's clients have mental ill health or have suffered from an episode of historic mental ill health, and it is vital to remember that everyone is different - and nobody knows the client's condition as well as they do themselves.