Editor’s Column: Recognizing the invisible purchasers

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There has been much talk lately about how Financial Planners can spot and work with vulnerable clients.

This is, as one report found this week, easier said than done.

Vulnerable clients might as well be invisible clients for a variety of reasons. Sometimes they choose to be invisible, other times they are just treated as invisible.

A new report from Just Group found that just 16% of clients informed their adviser they were facing circumstances which could make themselves vulnerable.

The report suggests that many vulnerable clients fail to make their advisers aware of a change in circumstances which result in a decline in capacity. They just do not admit to slipping into the vulnerable category. Some, of course, may not even realise they qualify for vulnerable status.

In these cases it is understandable if Financial Planners struggle sometimes to make the right ‘diagnosis’ of vulnerable client status. Clients tend to be reticent about revealing the complete state of their mental and physical health. It’s the British way to shrug your shoulders and say “mustn’t grumble.” We just do not like talking about mental and physical decline.

This is a pity because lack of openness may disguise a multitude of underlying issues which may impact on clients’ ability to make sound, long term decisions and planners ability to help them.

All this needs to change if the growing number of vulnerable clients are to receive appropriate and beneficial Financial Planning advice. And there will be more as the population ages and planners have more clients in advanced old age.

Planners need to be more adept at spotting signs of vulnerability. I’ve spoken to several planners over the years about this issue and I know many of them try very hard, particularly with older clients, to provide the right support.

However, a common scenario as a couple gets older is that one partner will need more care and may decline mentally or physically. A couple may have deteriorated markedly between one annual meeting and the next so it may take time to spot issues and this has probably been exacerbated by the pandemic and its forced distancing.

With the switch to online video meetings signs of vulnerability may be harder to spot too. It is likely to be much easier to spot a slightly dishevelled client when meeting them in person rather than over video call. This is just one of the issues planners have to take into consideration in this new world.

Keeping a close eye on all aspects of a client’s welfare is a critical part of being a good and caring Financial Planners.

In addition, Financial Planners who fail to spot that clients are declining may leave themselves open to making the wrong calls. A robust policy for all clients – and factoring in regular vulnerability checks – should be the obvious first port of call.

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Kevin O’Donnell is editor of Financial Planning Today and a journalist with 40 years of experience in finance, business and mainstream news. This topical comment on the Financial Planning news appears most weeks, usually on Fridays but occasionally other days. Follow @FPT_Kevin 



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