Equity Release  

Can advisers identify their clients' vulnerabilities remotely?

Our customers are gradually getting used to online video conferencing platforms, with many using them to stay connected to family members or friends during lockdown. 

It is also now fairly easy for applicants to have family members joining them in a meeting with an adviser, where previously geographical distance might have been a problem. 

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It is possible to have the broader family group of a person who is considering equity release on the same call – sometimes from around the world – so you can explain the process to the whole family and help them to understand the implications it may have.

It also allows you, as their adviser, the opportunity to spot any signs of undue pressure, to consider the family’s dynamics, and to ask open questions to gain a better understanding of the background that has led to the need to release housing wealth. 

Advisers must ask themselves: does the interaction reveal any of the FCA’s characteristics of vulnerability such as bereavement, relationship breakdown, job loss or accrued debt? 

As ever, it is important to keep a record of all your conversations with a customer and their family members to show the depth of conversation that you have had during these calls.  

Seeing the customer during a video call may also make clear any additional vulnerabilities or needs that they may have in managing their finances. Perhaps they have hearing or visual impairments, need an independent interpreter or have poor literacy or numeracy skills. 

Maybe they have little confidence or ability to manage their own financial affairs and might need the support of specialists.

Follow-up with the client

Finally, I would suggest you check in with the customer from time to time to see how things are going after the product has been arranged. 

This is especially important in the instance of a drawdown product, where circumstances can change significantly between the agreement of the borrowing and the funds being accessed.

It is important to keep the door of communication open between provider and the customer, encouraging them to come forward and talk to the provider if there are any problems. 

Covid and the additional vulnerabilities it has brought has meant that it is even more relevant now.

There is certainly a lot to consider, and I do not underestimate the challenges that this presents to businesses as they adapt their processes. 

However, technology and the leaps forward that we saw last year in the usage of video conferencing have definitely helped, bringing choice to customers in how they receive advice in the future. 

2020 proved to be a year of rapid evolution in how advice is given, and if it means we can be more rigorous in our care of the vulnerable, then I would argue it is a positive move forward.