Stuart Wilson is CEO of Air Group
It has, without doubt, been an extraordinary time recently.
I’m conscious that I’m writing this article a couple of weeks prior to you reading it, which means that while a lot has already changed; we could be in a very different space by then.
Things have moved quickly and will continue to do so, and therefore I think it’s important that I deal in generalities rather than specifics because, quite frankly, they may be irrelevant by the time you hear this.
For context, at the time of writing, it would appear that most businesses within financial services have introduced their contingency plans, with the vast majority of staff working from home.
As has been mentioned many times before, in a sense the advisory profession is fortunate because we have the capability and the access to tech to do this. Others, in many other sectors, are not so fortunate.
However, this is of course a worrying time for many people, not least our own profession, as we get to grips with what these work practice changes mean, how they will impact on our ability to continue to provide advice to clients, and how we work with our partners to complete business.
Every single mortgage or later life lending stakeholder is facing the same challenges; when many borrowers are worried about how they will pay their mortgages going forward, we should all be willing to cut those organisations some slack in terms of response times and how we work together.
That said, we still need to concentrate on the needs of our clients and how we support them. In the later life market, we talk a lot about the potential for customer vulnerability and the specific ways we, as advice professionals, identify that vulnerability, the soft skills required to deal with it, and what that means in terms of the service we provide.
Over the coming weeks, there is a very strong case to suggest that the methods that we use when it comes to dealing with potentially vulnerable clients should be extended to all individuals. In ordinary circumstances this would not be the case, but we are living in far from ordinary circumstances.
Even those who might feel they are at the very furthest reaches of risk when it comes to their financial situation, may still be feeling vulnerable and worried.
Anyone could catch the virus and, even if you do not, there is clearly still an impact to every single person in the country; we’re already seeing that with businesses having to close and employees wondering if they might even open again.
Clearly, there is government support, but I believe there is an overwhelming need for a ‘kid glove’ approach to all clients, simply because of the degree of uncertainty that is currently out there in the market.
This is where advisers are really going to prove their worth and provide help, support and (hopefully) put in place the necessary requirements to allow people a degree of leeway with their mortgage payments, set them in a firmer financial position for the short-term, or indeed give them the protection they need in order to feel safe and secure in their own homes.
There’s no doubting that a three-month mortgage holiday is going to be required by large numbers of mortgage borrowers, and advisers clearly have a role to play here in terms of looking at the arrangement offered and determining whether it is the right option for that individual.
Other options could be better – moving to an interest-only option, for example, or simply cutting the payment for a short period.
The same really applies in the later life space, or those approaching later life. How many individuals, close to retirement, will have seen the value of their pension drop dramatically in the past week or so, and be worried about what this means for retirement living standards? How many might now feel that their house should be utilised as an asset in order to support their needs going forward?
Is there a possibility to review the finances of those about to reach later life in order to put them in a better position after this uncertain economic period has ended?
While there will clearly be worried individuals out there, advisers have the opportunity to alleviate some of the financial worries that will be prevalent.
The government and the Bank of England have provided plenty of advice touchstones – from mortgage holidays to the historic cuts to the Bank Base Rate – for advisers to communicate with their existing clients.
Let’s ensure they are aware of the potential options and solutions available, and that you are the very best person to support them. And make sure you take advantage of the raft of support that Air Group continues to offer its members – we have a dedicated team working for you and available to help. No-one needs to work through this on their own, so please use us as you see fit – we will get through this together.