We’ve all got a part to play
Chris Prior is manager, sales and distribution at Bridgewater Equity Release
A question occurred to me during our recent round table event for advisers in Peterborough – who is responsible for consumer education about equity release?
I raise this following an interesting debate at the event which focused on the role of the Equity Release Council and the work it does promoting the sector and raising consumer understanding about the sector.
When quizzed on what the Council was doing in this area, Denise Beedell, communications and operations manager at the trade association, pointed out the high profile work that has gone into educating both journalists and their readers on what equity release products are available, what they can be used for, how Joe Public might find out if equity release is suitable for them and where they can find advice, etc, etc.
Denise pointed out that the Council is often quoted and profiled in the broadsheet press, to which one adviser responded that it would be more useful to have coverage in the ‘red tops’ as its readers would be more likely to need equity release. He also suggested that getting the message out at a local level would be more beneficial.
While I think the Council can clearly have a role in targeting local journalists and publications – and indeed does this already – I couldn’t help but feel there was a certain degree of abdication of responsibility on the part of the adviser.
For a start the individual concerned wasn’t a member of the Council and therefore it seemed slightly rich to be berating the industry body without actually supporting it. Secondly, who better to spread a local message to the local population about equity release than an adviser who should be at the very heart of their community?
The Council currently has over 330 members and, even with the greatest will in the world, it will not always have the capacity and resource to be able to reach every single nook and cranny of the UK with its equity release message.
Indeed, it is hard enough getting the message out to the big media players and publications never mind the Government, politicians and stakeholders – that it has achieved so much in a short space of time is a real positive.
However, advisers should not simply be relying upon the work of the trade association to educate their potential clients – this has to come from them as well.
There are various methods of getting the message out at a local level – for a start advisers could contact their local newspaper/free-sheet/parish magazine/What’s On listings and offer to write regular articles about retirement or later life issues.
These do not (and should not) be technical analysis on a certain topic but should be more conversational, informal pieces perhaps using a topical news story as a hook. In this day and age you should not be short of content – there are many underlying issues and problems for those in, or at, retirement and so why not simply pick out one of these, discuss why it’s a potential issue and then provide some ideas on potential solutions, such as equity release.
Advisers can also get their message out through the spoken, not just the written, word. Almost all communities will have local clubs and organisations who would welcome a talk about financial planning issues in retirement.
Why not contact the local WI or roundtable organisations? Many villages and towns have Lions-type groups or clubs which would welcome a non-sales overview of current issues, why they might be important, who they might affect and the potential solutions available.
By getting out into the local area and using its various communication channels, advisers can take responsibility for educating their own backyard. If every specialist equity release adviser did something then the message would spread much more quickly and the number of people who might be inclined to take out a plan which is suitable for them, will grow.
In answer to the question I posed at the start, we all have a responsibility to ensure consumer education happens – if advisers start where they live then I have no doubt that a ripple effect will happen and we will all have a much better chance of speaking to the converted when we have those equity release conversations.