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How to support vulnerable mortgage customers

23 July, 2020Juno Baker

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused much hardship and anxiety, and some clients may be more vulnerable than usual. As a mortgage adviser, how can you identify signs of trouble and make sure you’re protecting your client? This article gives you four top tips.

Old hands on a person's lapAs unemployment rises, many people seeing their families struggle will want to help them out financially. One way to do that is through mortgage equity release.

However, some clients may be experiencing short-term vulnerability. They could be under pressure from others who need cash and, under duress, may make financial decisions that are not in their own interests.

As advisers, we’re still relying on meeting many of our clients online, as some are still shielding and others are reluctant to venture out.

So how do you, as a mortgage adviser, ensure you’re protecting your client’s best interests – particularly when you can’t meet them and talk to them in person?

Look out for any changes

As professional advisers, we’ve been trained to look for physical clues as well as verbal ones in conversations with clients, such as:

  • nodding without following what is being said
  • seeing that a home is suddenly less well kept
  • that the person is becoming forgetful, or,
  • recognising the effects of bereavement.

In person, it’s relatively easy for an adviser to spot vulnerabilities, especially if you’ve known the client for many years.

Over a slow broadband connection – with bad audio and poor screen resolution, which the client can’t fix – you have to be extra vigilant to spot the red flags.

So what extra care should we take while using technology – especially if all you can see is someone’s eyes and they keep insisting that everything is fine?

We still need to look out for subtle changes in behaviour, decision-making and comprehension, and you do that by listening more – and listening more carefully.

Help clients learn the technology

Technology can be another hurdle for some older users – and place a barrier between mortgage adviser and client.

Getting used to technology, and ensuring clients do too, is helpful.

You could set up a separate call to coach your clients through it and explain how you’ll be conducting meetings for the foreseeable future. That could make for more effective client meetings for years to come.

Find a ‘trusted person’ to support the client

Vulnerability is not the same as an inability to make decisions. However, the adviser needs to ensure a trusted family member or professional (such as a solicitor) is on the call to give the client the right level of support – so they’re not taking a major financial step they’ll regret.

That trusted person needs to be validated by the adviser. They could be the person named as having lasting power of attorney, or they might be the designated executors of a will.

Consider delaying important decisions

Many people in the country are under stress – they’ve been ill, suffered bereavement, or lost their job – so advisers need to proceed with care and some lines shouldn’t be crossed.

In particular, if someone has suffered a major life event such as the loss of a partner, decisions on a commitment like equity release should be paused if possible and reconsidered at a later date.

Of course, some people are resilient. Some find an illness spurs them on to make essential financial arrangements such as setting up a lasting power of attorney. But most of us will be struggling with fallout from Covid-19 for some time.

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