Stuart Wilson is CEO of Air Group
Given the momentous nature of the COVID-19 pandemic and its ongoing impact on the entire property market, let alone the equity release sector, it is unsurprising that many stakeholders are trying to work out exactly what it will mean in the future.
There’s no doubt that the impact of the current global crisis is going to be substantial across all manner of different areas.
Now, that might not chime with some people, but I think it’s possible to already see the ways in which ‘a change is gonna come’.
To be honest, those who believe it’s simply a matter of time before we return to the status quo that was in place before COVID-19 are unlikely to see that hope come to fruition.
ADAPT AND LEARN
For instance, in the equity release sector, and especially around the provision of advice, it’s already possible to see the way the market is moving.
To that end, advisers are going to have to move with the times; it’s my belief that those advisers and providers which are able to adapt and learn from their experiences during this time will be in the best place to succeed as volumes grow.
Take something as fundamental as the face-to-face advice meeting, which has been the cornerstone of the provision of equity release delivery for many, many years.
In the past, the default setting has been for the adviser to visit the client in their home, often meaning a large degree of travelling.
Of course, there are many benefits to seeing the client face-to-face. I’ve written recently about those, especially in terms of protecting potentially vulnerable clients who may be under duress to go ahead with an equity release recommendation because, for example, a family member wants or needs the money.
At the same time, it is now possible to see a nation – particularly within the older population – that is becoming ever more comfortable with the kind of technology which allows them to meet people remotely. new method How many individuals have learnt how to use Zoom or other video chat platforms over the past few months?
How many might now be entirely comfortable with that, and be willing to speak to an adviser via this method? Many parts of the UK population have been forced to adopt this technology; once you take that step, the fear factor goes and you tend not to go back.
Advisers need to react to this development, because there could be considerable benefits in offering clients a video meeting rather than something face-to-face – not forgetting, of course, that some clients might not be comfortable with strangers or outsiders entering their property anyway.
We’re already seeing a shift towards this – I know of one example where an adviser is offering clients a discount on their advice fee if they take up the option to conduct video rather than face-to-face meetings. As mentioned, this saves travelling time in getting to that client, which can be dedicated to other important tasks, and therefore there is a saving to be made.
It’s certainly worth providing such an option, because I suspect that many clients will be willing to take up the offer. We might see a greater degree of flexibility in other areas, too, reaping considerable rewards for large numbers of market practitioners.
Keeping on top of rapidly changing criteria and product changes will be hugely beneficial, especially if we see further virus waves at regional levels which require localised lockdowns.
Advisers in different areas of the country might well experience a very different equity release marketplace depending on how, if and when the much-predicted second wave of the virus follows.
Technology is also likely to play a major part in areas such as valuations – throughout the crisis period we have seen a number of providers moving to an acceptance of remote and desktop valuations, and the likelihood is that these could increasingly be used in the future, even with physical valuations firmly back on the agenda.
A more tech-focused solution could also allow cases to progress more quickly, and there are clear benefits for advisers and their clients if we are able to get more business through the pipes in a much quicker timeframe, even with the added responsibilities and requirements that accompany the legal process for equity release customers. better outcomes.
These are just some areas where we are likely to see post-COVID-19 change, which could ultimately end up delivering far better customer experiences and outcomes.
They will require a more flexible approach to advice delivery which, by utilising the latest products and criteria, could drive a better advice service and ensure customers do get their cases processed far quicker.
It is a new world, but it is also a better one, even if it has been created by a terrible situation which has required plenty of grit in order to make it through.
Once we are able to look back, I think it will be possible to see that this period did allow us to embark on a new phase for the sector, one which can deliver significant benefits for those who are able to grasp the opportunities it presents.