The extra mile
The past year has been difficult; multiple lockdowns, unable to see friends or family and a complete alteration to everyday life. Whether it be struggles with personal, physical or mental health, a bereavement of a loved one or the financial shock caused by the COVID-19 outbreak, I think even the strongest amongst us have felt out of our comfort zone at some point since the beginning of 2020… and that is completely normal.
At Equilibrium, our purpose is to “make people’s lives better” and only by properly understanding a client’s individual circumstances can we properly seek to achieve that purpose.
Everyone will experience exposure to an element of vulnerability at some point in their lives. It could be transient (bereavement, divorce, redundancy) or permanent (mental or physical health deterioration). The vulnerability could be financial or wellbeing based. Whilst we are obviously not medical professionals, we have a duty of care to look after the best interests of our clients. Therefore, education is vitally important to ensure that our team, at all levels, have a basic understanding of the potential vulnerability flags and the steps that we should take to ensure we protect our clients as far as we can.
Not only is looking after vulnerable clients very important to our work and purpose, it has also been a key topic and area of concern for the FCA of late.
We did already have a policy in place, however it was very jargon heavy and didn’t really support our value of ‘simplicity’. Thus, the policy has been reworked into our ‘extra care policy’ and made more relevant and practical for use on a day-to-day basis.
Taking one client as an example, both herself and her husband have been clients of Equilibrium for a number of years and for this example, we shall call them David and Tracey (although these are not their real names). In the past, David had taken the lead on the majority of financial decisions and had also been more actively interested in the investment process. Unfortunately, David passed away early in 2020 and Tracey has recently told her Client Manager at Equilibrium that she isn’t feeling too confident regarding the financial decisions she is being asked to make.
Part of our extra care procedure is to consider what we currently do for Tracey, and what can we improve or adapt to better suit her. In her particular case, we have made the following adaptions:
- Financial planning and decisions can be complicated. Tracey’s Client Manager shall therefore call her after any written recommendations have been sent, to ensure that the report and its contents have been properly understood and digested.
- As Tracey lives on her own now, and her sons live a far distance away from her, we will arrange one of her sons to be present in meetings via video link. This is something that Tracey did not know we could facilitate, and she has already thanked us for this, saying it has been of comfort to know that her sons can help provide a further support network for her regarding finances.
- We have also proposed that we conduct multiple shorter meetings, instead of a longer single review meeting, to ensure Tracey has more time to digest any information provided in the meeting. At the current time, Tracey does not feel this is necessary (especially now her son is involved in meetings), but we shall consider this again should circumstances change.
Our approach to service is different to the traditional wealth management model, as each client is assigned a Financial Planner to oversee a client’s financial strategy and also a Client Manager, who is responsible for implementing this strategy. This Client Manager is also designated to be a client’s first point of contact, meaning they are uniquely placed to identify where we could be doing more for a client.
Equilibrium has also registered for the PFS Financial Vulnerability Charter, which essentially is a code of conduct that a firm pledges to follow when providing extra care to clients. Essentially, there are nine core pledges in the charter, and they already very much meet our own core values of Simplicity, Excellence, Growth and Integrity.