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Advising later life clients during a pandemic

15 Jun 2020

Jessica Franks

Head of Tax at Octopus Investments

Jessica Franks Head of Tax - Octopus Investments

At the time of writing, face-to-face meetings with elderly clients are a no-go. Yet the need among clients for sound financial advice is arguably even greater than it was before the lockdown. So I wanted to write about some of the practical considerations around advising later life clients during a pandemic.

This topic will also be the focus of the first episode of the Octopus Online Show, which aired on 26 June. You can watch on demand here

The first point to stress is that there is a definite appetite among clients to hear from their financial adviser.

“I’d say people are almost more keen to look at their finances because they’ve got little else to do,” says Felix Milton, a chartered financial planner based in Devon.

“A lot of clients are seeing their cash reserves build up, because there’s not the availability of things to spend it on.”

Tish Hanifan, founder and joint chair of the Society of Later Life Advisers (SOLLA), agrees.

 “Later life clients want some help to try to navigate the financial changes that they’re finding,” she says.

“There is a behavioural bias towards making short-term decisions, which actually have long-term implications, and which, when you’re right in the heart of that yourself, it’s very hard to step aside and do what might long term be the best thing. So a really good role for an adviser is to be a person who can give them that objective guidance, through short-term decision making and long-term objectives.”

Clients and advisers are adjusting to the new normal

The good news is, after an initial quiet period around the time the lockdown started, when the hope was that this would be a short-term blip, there are signs that advisers and clients are now adjusting to the new reality.

“We’re hearing two things,” says Hanifan.

“We’re hearing that clients are making contact. And then we’re hearing from advisers who as yet haven’t made contact, but feel they really need to.”

In particular, there has been an increased interest in estate planning advice.

“Solicitors have seen a huge increase in people asking about wills and power of attorney,” says Hanifan.

This echoes a similar uptick over the last few weeks in advisers talking to Octopus about inheritance tax investments.

The key point is, the need among clients for financial advice remains substantial. For some clients, that need will be greater than it was just a few months ago.

This is a time for compassionate conversations,” says Hanifan, who adds that advisers should not be afraid to make the first move and contact clients to see how events may have affected how they feel about their planning.

“For financial advisers, who I think are instinctively good at this anyway, it’s a reminder of how important soft skills are now. I’m not saying they haven’t always been, but they really are now.”

So how can you navigate the new landscape to continue delivering the advice your clients need?

Here are a few ideas.

Make sure your client is comfortable with the technology you’ll be using

“I would make sure you feel comfortable with remote conversations and are familiar with the technology,” says Hanifan.

“And make sure your client is too before you start to do anything that relates to business.”

Of course, with some clients you will stick to using technology that’s already well established.

“A lot of our older clients prefer telephone contact anyway, and a lot of them want written correspondence,” says Milton.

“So we’ve managed to maintain that, and nearly everyone now has email. Even if you’re ninety, you’re comfortable using email, because email has been around long enough now that it’s bedded in quite well in society.”

One area that needs careful consideration is the use of video calling technology.

“What I am struggling with is trying to get older clients to use Zoom,” says Milton.

“I like Zoom, because it’s much easier to record calls than, say, Skype. A lot of older clients say ‘I know how to use FaceTime or Skype, but I don’t know how to use Zoom’. But apart from that, it’s absolutely fine, phone calls are all fine. Just calling in and checking up on people, they’re really appreciating it at this time.”

With both Skype and Zoom it’s possible to record calls, which means you have them on file. Both also support in-browser calls, meaning a client does not necessarily have to download the software to their device. You can also have multiple people on a call, meaning a client can invite a family member if they find that helpful.

“I have always been a big advocate that when advising any client regarding their estate planning advisers should include key family members as part of the discussion,” says Gary Kershaw, group compliance director at SimplyBiz.

Nonetheless, video calling won’t be right for every client. Nor is it a necessity for continuity of business.

If you use video calling, be prepared to adapt your style

Hanifan suggests advisers may want to ask clients more questions than they would in a face-to-face meeting.

“I don’t mean overload people. Ask more questions in order to ensure you and they have understood the topic. Because you’re not picking up non-verbal signals, and nor are they.”

It’s also a good idea with video calls to allow more time for answering a question, because there’s usually an audio lag.

“For older people,” says Hanifan, “their adjustment to that is greater, and they need longer to reflect on the question.”

Kershaw suggests advisers apply the following tips:

  • Allow extra time for older clients.
  • Minimise visual and auditory distractions.
  • Listen without interrupting the client.
  • Speak slowly, clearly and loudly.
  • Use short, simple words and sentences.

As you’ll have worked out for yourself, your virtual meetings with clients can be just as effective as face-to-face ones.

Be just as alert as you would be in person

Just as you would in a face-to-face client meeting, it’s important to keep an eye out for any capacity issues.

“Don’t ask closed questions,” says Hanifan.

“And if you have doubts about capacity and you are going ahead, do make sure you record what you were uncertain about and why you went ahead.”

Don’t let the pandemic deny clients the advice they need

“Making sensible financial planning decisions is recommended still,” says Milton.

Hanifan agrees.

“This isn’t going to change any time soon,” she says. “We’ve got to get advice happening.”

There’s a strong case to make that the current situation is an opportunity for advisers to show the value of getting advice from a knowledgeable human being.

“Because of lockdown, people have lost their physical day-to-day contact with people who they’ve relied upon as a kind of emotional support structure and advice support structure, and that lifestyle change has made people more vulnerable,” says Hanifan.

“Financial advisers can fulfil that role of being a trusted friend. They should be actively positioning themselves as a trusted source of advice and guidance in a time when their clients are looking for some reassurance harbour. I see it as an opportunity to embed the role of a financial adviser in later life planning.” To hear more on this topic, sign up now to watch the first episode of the Octopus Online Show, which aired on Friday 26 June at 10am. Watch the episode on demand here.

Octopus inheritance tax investments put investor capital at risk and are not suitable for everyone.