Any one of us can find ourselves in vulnerable circumstances at any time in our life. These circumstances can be triggered by a major life event (for example, the death of a loved one), a health concern or even a lack of confidence in managing money.
Here at Strabens Hall, we want to ensure that you always achieve the best possible outcome for your wealth. We know, recognise that when you are in vulnerable circumstances, you may be more likely to make poor decisions or be susceptible to mis-selling.
In this blog post, we talk about the steps that we take to provide you with a safe, supportive, and fair environment in which you can confidently make sound financial decisions.
What are vulnerable circumstances?
Before discussing how we support you, it is important to first understand what vulnerable circumstances are. As explained by the Financial Conduct Authority, the four key drivers of such circumstances include:
- Major life events
The death of a loved one, a divorce / relationship breakdown or the loss of income are common examples.
- Health concerns
Examples of health concerns can include health conditions and illnesses that make managing day-to-day activities difficult. Gambling addictions and substance abuse are also covered within this category.
- Financial Resilience
This considers your ability to withstand financial or emotional shocks. If your financial resilience is low, additional support from us can help you achieve a positive outcome.
- Financial Capabilities
If you have little financial understanding or lack confidence in managing your money, tailoring our approach for your individual needs will be highly beneficial.
- Major life events
Being in vulnerable circumstances can impact you in one or more ways: physically, mentally and / or emotionally. This, in turn, may influence how well you communicate, manage, and interpret information. You may expect to experience these circumstances for a short period of time, indefinitely or even sporadically.
It is important to remember that being in vulnerable circumstances simply highlights a need for us to tailor our approach to your individual requirements.
Helping you achieve the best possible outcome for your wealth when you are in vulnerable circumstances
While we have always had guidelines and processes in place to assist those in vulnerable circumstances, the creation of the Financial Vulnerability Taskforce (FVT) allows us to take our commitment to this one step further.
Our adoption of the Financial Vulnerability Taskforce’s Charter
In February 2021, we voluntarily registered for the newly created FVT Charter. Consisting of nine statements, it is designed to help firms understand how they can – as the FVT website states – “promote greater understanding, encourage appropriate behaviour and establish good practice in respect of consumer vulnerability.”
“There is fraud and exploitation in the financial services industry,” Robert Harper, our Senior Paraplanner, and FVTF Champion states. “Some financial advisers are taking advantage of people in vulnerable circumstances for their own profit.”
“We have signed up to the FVT Charter as we know how important it is to put the needs of our clients above our own profit,” he continues. “This protects our own clients, but it also helps to lift the reputation of the industry. If enough firms sign up for this Charter, there may not be so much exploitation in the industry.”
By registering, we also agree to have our internal processes and training schedule audited periodically.. “We need to be able to demonstrate our compliance each year,” Robert reveals. “To ensure that we are always in compliance, we will review our procedures regularly, and we will be designing a refresher course for training on an annual basis.”
What are we committing to?
By voluntarily adopting the Charter, we have committed to always:
- Ensuring that our advice is easy for you to understand.
- Placing your interests above our own profits.
- Going above and beyond to identify vulnerable circumstances.
- Acting fairly and never making assumptions.
- Using the term ‘vulnerability’ solely in relation to your circumstances and never labelling you as ‘vulnerable’.
- Being sensitive and protecting your privacy.
- Tailoring our approach to your individual needs.
- Making sure that our team members are well trained, empathetic, and able to provide you with the level of support that you require.
- Acting immediately to protect you if you are a victim of financial abuse.
To see detailed explanations of each of the above statements, visit the Financial Vulnerability Taskforce’s website or download a copy of the Consumer Guide.
Identifying vulnerable circumstances
Our advisers are all trained to recognise vulnerable circumstances. However, they can sometimes be hidden and difficult to detect.
Robert reveals: “When you recognise that you are in vulnerable circumstances, we want you to self-declare this – without any judgement from your adviser. We want this simply because we are here to help you and the more that you share with us, the better we are able to support you.”
To assist us in identifying vulnerable circumstances, we are guided by the acronym BRUCE – Behaviours, Remembering, Understanding, Communication and Evaluate. This encourages us to ask about, and be on the lookout for, known triggers. It also prompts us to ask ourselves how well we are communicating with you.
Robert highlights tell-tale signs that he and our other advisers look out for: “Some people / clients (?) may find it difficult to recall information or they may become highly emotional. Others might mention that they are moving into care, or they may provide us with conflicting answers. The key here is to listen and to be empathetic.”
He continues, “At this stage, advisers may be asking themselves questions such as, are you remembering the information that we are providing? Do we need to rephrase something? Could we be communicating more effectively with you and, if so, how? Would it be helpful for us to go back over the options that we have shared with you?”
Determining how to tailor our approach
If we identify vulnerable circumstances, we will want to understand how we can tailor our approach to meet your individual needs.
Here we are guided by the IDEA acronym, where we consider:
How have the circumstances that you have found yourself in impacted your life?
How long will these circumstances impact you?
If your circumstances are not indefinite, might they be experienced again? If so, when?
Are you receiving additional assistance already? For example, does a loved one have power of attorney?
Gaining your consent to record sensitive information
We understand that sharing sensitive information about yourself – especially when you find yourself in vulnerable circumstances – can be difficult. However, having this information on file allows us to ensure consistency in our approach and in our future communications with you.
To gain consent, we follow the steps outlined by the TEXAS acronym:
First, we will always thank you for sharing information about your circumstances with us.
We will then spend time telling you how the information that you have shared will be used as well as how we will store it and who will have access to it.
After this, we will explicitly ask you for consent to record and store this data.
Additional questions may be asked after you have given us consent. For example, we might want to know if you have support from loved ones or other professional advisers.
It is during this step that we ask you if you would like any specific help / support from us, our colleagues or external sources. If relevant, we may share resources with you or reach out to your existing advisers (for example, accountants or solicitors).
Enhancing our in-house training
Our comprehensive internal training programme is complemented by our corporate charity partnership with Mind in Brent, Wandsworth and Westminster. Through this, we are privy to a variety of webinars, toolkits and workshops that allow us to further develop our awareness of vulnerable circumstances and the role of mental health and wellbeing in communications, decision-making and personal wellbeing.
In turn, this encourages us to consider and embrace new perspectives and identify ways to create a safe, compassionate, and comfortable experience for you.
How our adoption of the FVT Charter benefits you
Regardless of whether you are currently in vulnerable circumstances or not, our adoption of the FVT Charter means that you can always rely on us to have your best interests at heart.
“We want you to get a sense that you are always being dealt with correctly and that you are going to enjoy a very good level of service with us,” Robert concludes. “You can relax knowing that we will provide you with easy to comprehend and effective solutions. You will feel like you understand more about what we are recommending – and why – and this should help you feel happier and more financially secure.”
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