In Focus: Vulnerability  

'Ditch the suit': an adviser's take on dealing with vulnerable clients

'Ditch the suit': an adviser's take on dealing with vulnerable clients

Advisers need to hone in on their soft skills and know when to move away from the "intimidating" shirt and tie combo when dealing with vulnerable clients, says SJP adviser Adam Johnson.

Johnson, director of New Forest Wealth Management – a senior partner practice of St. James’s Place - said advisers are often good at speaking but it is the listening that is especially important when dealing with clients who are on the vulnerable side.

These clients require a different set of skills with a lot more emphasis on body language and how advisers portray themselves, he said.

Johnson told FTAdviser: “I do not tend to go and see my clients in a suit shirt and tie. You could have a person who has never dealt with financial advice before but has suddenly inherited money because their parents have passed and could therefore be quite intimidated.

“If an adviser then rocks up in a suit and tie and sits behind an oak panel desk, it makes the whole process less engaging.

“This is why soft skills around the language used and how we communicate with these clients is so important.”

Advisers must treat vulnerability as an important subject area in its own right and it should be given the same value as chartered qualifications, according to Johnson.

He explained that advisers must take certain qualifications in order to advise on defined benefit transfers or inheritance tax planning but the same is not true for dealing with the issue of vulnerability.

But Johnson said changing this would give advisers the opportunity to learn better practice in this area and enable them to share their own experiences. 

He said: “Most of the exams we take are knowledge and application whereas with vulnerable clients it is more knowledge, application and communication.”

Own experience

The vulnerable client space has interested Johnson for a number of years due to his personal experiences.

He was a live-in carer for his grandmother for 10 years while running a financial advice practice, therefore he saw first hand what happens when a person becomes increasingly vulnerable as the years go by.

Johnson said he saw the process of a person moving from being potentially vulnerable, to being a bit vulnerable, to then becoming angry about being vulnerable until at the end the person is incapacitated. 

He said: “I saw the journey and how that vulnerability could impact her decisions and whether it would lead to good outcomes. 

“It meant that from a financial services point of view, I became very aware that if it was true of my grandmother then it is true of all decision making and not just financial.”

According to Johnson, being a vulnerable client in the simplest of terms means they are in need of some extra support.

This means extra contemplation on the adviser’s behalf to ensure that good client outcomes are reached and that the individual has a good threshold of understanding.