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Advisers 'not in a good place' on vulnerability

Advisers 'not in a good place' on vulnerability

Advisers have been warned they are not in a "good place" when it comes to handling vulnerable clients due to the lack of face-to-face client meetings.

Half of advisers (50 per cent) have said the lack of face-to-face client meetings during the pandemic has made it harder to spot vulnerability, according to new research.

Stuart Wilson, a corporate director at later-lifer lender More2life - which conducted the research - said advisers were “crying out” for more support on the issue of vulnerability, which had become harder to navigate following the pandemic-induced shift to Zoom meetings.

“We’ve been identifying a bit of a conundrum over the years,” Wilson told FTAdviser. “Advisers know they need to look out for vulnerability, but don’t know how to do it. It’s not a good place to be in as an industry.”

However, Wilson went on to say the advice profession had made significant progress in acknowledging the importance of client vulnerability, despite lacking the tools to do something about it.

The majority of advisers (96 per cent) the lender spoke to said it was very important to be aware and have an understanding of the issues around vulnerability when providing advice, especially to later-life clients.

"While no one wants to be concerned that they are not providing the best possible service to their clients, the fact that there is almost unanimous agreement on the importance of being aware of and understanding vulnerability is good news," said Wilson.

Vulnerability, by nature, can be difficult to spot, with transient examples such as financial instability or periods of mental ill-health classified just as much of a vulnerability as any physical ailment, he said.

“It is clear the immediate thing advisers spring to [when identifying vulnerability] is very old age, say clients in their 80s or 90s who are struggling with mobility and require day-to-day care.

“But mental health, or financial turbulence, these are more subtle areas of vulnerability which advisers are less tuned into.”

Some 20 per cent of the 234 advisers More2life spoke to, which range from later-life specialists to those just starting out in the industry, said the pandemic had made classifying vulnerability more complex.

Meanwhile 15 per cent expressed a worry that being unable to involve family members made it more challenging to identify potential vulnerabilities.

“As human beings, we’re very good at putting up a mask,” said Wilson. Asked how advisers can address this, he said asking the right questions was key.

But even then, Wilson admits a client might not be forthcoming. “Even probing with questions, it will take a lot for clients with less visible vulnerabilities to admit them to a stranger.”

For this reason, he said technology could form part of the solution, though he added it was still in the “embryonic stages” of adoption.