We spoke to founder and joint chair of the Society of Later Life Advisers (SOLLA), Tish Hanifan, to get her thoughts on advising elderly clients during the pandemic. She answers questions submitted by advisers below. She stresses that the current situation and its implications aren’t going to be resolved quickly and that this period of financial and emotional insecurity means that good advice will be increasingly important.
Should advisers be using technology and virtual meetings with older clients at this time?
The current situation is an opportunity for advisers to show the full value of getting advice and reassurance from a knowledgeable person even if they are communication with them remotely. Clearly the use of remote contact may well initially be a challenge for clients and with older clients it may well give rise to vulnerability so it’s important to bear this in mind.
It may well be a good first line of contact for advisers to take the initiative and simply call or write to clients saying you just want to let them know you are there to help and let them know that you can speak to them directly even though you cannot currently have face-to-face meetings in the office or their home
I think older clients broadly fall into two groups. Those who have adapted to technology and those who haven’t. It’s too much for some people, and that’s fine. For some clients, you can still write and do telephone calls. With much older clients, it will likely be the case that advisers often aren’t dealing with the client themselves. It’s likely a Power of Attorney could be in place and often an adviser will be dealing with attorneys or deputies, rather than the client themselves. The gold standard would be having a combination of the older client, plus family member/attorney in a meeting.
Later life clients want help to try to navigate their finances at this time of uncertainty. Because of lockdown, people have lost their physical day-to-day contact with people they rely upon for emotional support and advice. 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 at a time when their clients are looking for reassurance.
Put simply, older people need advisers more than they did previously. Your support can be very valuable.
Is it appropriate to do a Zoom call with an 85-year old about IHT planning?
It completely depends on the client. Older people aren’t all the same. It is a mistake to think of them as a homogenous group when all they have in common is their age.
Some will embrace technology and will have been using it to keep in touch with friends and families, and be open to using it with their financial adviser too. There are prejudices towards this age range, with assumptions being made that they all find tech difficult. Initially it was a bit difficult and there might have been reluctance by some, but there has been a surprising take up of tech. It’s one of the few positive things to come out of the pandemic. It’s brought forward advances in tech that will help older people.
I feel uncomfortable giving advice to older clients when we’re not face to face. Do you have any advice?
I’ve heard this quite a lot and know that some advisers think they shouldn’t be giving advice to older clients at this time because they can’t meet face to face. I’m very sympathetic to that. It’s good that advisers are concerned about what’s right for their client. But there is no technical reason why they shouldn’t be giving advice at this time. You might need to change how you deal with someone now you’re not face to face, but there are ways to adapt and there’s no reason you shouldn’t.
What would be your advice for meeting clients via a video call on a platform such as Zoom?
You need to adapt your soft skills to a virtual environment because it’s hard to pick up non-verbal clues via Zoom call. For example:
- Make sure the client is comfortable with the technology beforehand (and you are too).
- Ask more questions than you might do usually, to ensure you know they’ve understood. I don’t mean overload people, but you’re not picking up non-verbal signals and nor are they.
- Avoid closed questions.
- Ask them to clarify back the conversation to make sure they’ve understood.
- Give the client longer to answer. There can be an audio lag and you don’t want to rush them or miss something. For older people, their adjustment to that can be greater, and they may need longer to reflect on the question.
- Recording calls is a good idea, as long as you get consent from the client at the start.
How has the pandemic affected vulnerability?
There’s been a big increase in the life changes that can impact on vulnerabilities.
Big life events can make someone vulnerable when they previously weren’t. Isolation and loneliness can lead to vulnerability when someone previously wouldn’t be considered to be vulnerable. The pandemic means that people don’t have access to the people they would normally go to, to talk things through and sound things out with. Unfortunately, we’ve seen an increase in scams at this time. It’s important for advisers to proactively let clients know they are still there for their clients and to be that trusted person when it comes to financial decisions.
The life event of bereavement could also mean someone becomes vulnerable. It could be traumatising. SOLLA provides training on helping advisers talk to clients and empathise with what’s happened, and get that across remotely. To find out more, go to The Society of Later Life Advisers
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. And if you have doubts about capacity and you are going ahead with an advice recommendation, do make sure you record what you were uncertain about and why you went ahead.
Have you seen any increase in older people writing wills and putting Powers of Attorney in place?
There has been a big increase in people talking about later life planning issue generally. People are thinking about their future – wills, what should I do with my assets, are they being managed in the right way, what do I want to leave behind? Families have had to have difficult conversations that they haven’t had to have in the past. They’ve been pushed into these conversations by the situation. People feel more able to have these type of conversations that naturally give rise to estate planning questions. We’ve seen a large increase in people asking about wills and related estate planning issues. It’s a good thing for people to get affairs in order in terms of financial planning. It’s prompted conversations that, for some people, used to be taboo. In a positive sense, people have discussed topics they wouldn’t have naturally talked about with family members.
In summary, what are your top tips for advisers dealing with elderly clients at this time?
- They may not make initial contact, so don’t be slow to engage with them. Tell them you’re there to help them.
- Make sure you have a good understanding of any skills you need to acquire or improve around video call e.g. soft skills, so you can make the best of the contact you do have.
- Clearly document your decisions and observations. Record calls if clients are happy for you to do so, but always seek their permission.
- Help clients focus on their longer-term objectives. There is often a behavioural bias towards making short-term decisions, which may actually have long-term implications which they haven’t considered A good role for an adviser is to be the person who can give clients that objective guidance, through short-term decision making and long-term objectives.
Personal opinions may change and should not be seen as advice or a recommendation.