With most advisers working remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, and face-to-face meetings remaining a distant prospect for many among older client bases even as the market starts to reopen, stringent work must be done to spot vulnerability, according to Stuart Wilson (pictured), corporate marketing director at more2life.
He said: “While all older customers are certainly not vulnerable, as people age issues such as cognitive or physical decline can mean that they are more likely to be vulnerable.
“The average equity release customer is around 70 years old, so this is an issue that, as an industry, we are very much aware of and work hard to manage.
“With much of the industry now working remotely, it is more crucial than ever that advisers are confident in their ability to spot and deal with vulnerable clients.
“With so many face-to-face interactions being replaced by digital alternatives, what might have been obvious in a physical environment may not be as clear in a virtual one.”
Face-to-face meetings were previously the cornerstone of building strong client relationships, as well as ensuring the borrower understands and is suited to the product, and is not under any form of pressure or duress.
Wilson said: “Advisers may be thinking ‘how can I gauge if my client is vulnerable due to a recent significant life event?’ or ‘how can I find out whether my client has experienced a major financial shock as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak?’
“Getting answers to questions like these can be difficult in person, but spotting signs of vulnerability in a digital-only environment can feel like an even greater challenge.”
To overcome these obstacles to spotting vulnerability, Wilson added, education and preparation are key.
He said: “It isn’t easy, but it can be done, and being prepared as well as fully understanding what it means to be vulnerable is a step in the right direction.
“Most lenders like more2life have resources available including webinars which are designed to help and educate so these are a good starting point.
“Naturally, advisers prepare ahead of client meetings, but taking the time to consider how this specific customer might be vulnerable and then looking for indications of this is also a good course of action.”
This is an issue that goes beyond the individual advisers involved, however.
Wilson concluded: “That said, more needs to be done and as the pandemic continues, it will be up to trade bodies and lenders to work together to ensure that advisers have access to the resources they need to deal with vulnerable clients effectively.”