Apart from those working with the large national advisory firms, most equity release advisers work on their own.
If I were to describe the world of a typical adviser, it might be somewhat isolated, which is why it is important there are support structures in place, be they through providers or trade bodies or less formal groupings of peers, to bring advisers together.
There are very few equity release advisers on the ground relative to general or mortgage advisers, so time and effort should be made to seek out others in this position.
No man or woman is an island and while they may spend the majority of their time working alone, it is important they can call on people around them who share the same challenges, opportunities, frustrations and enthusiasm for the sector.
Building these relationships should be a vital part of any adviser’s ongoing development. A number of associations have sprung up over the past 12 months and while the overall equity release advisory sector may benefit from speaking with one voice rather than many, it is still a positive that these groupings exist. We also try to bring advisers together in an informal setting through our broker forums because without such events there would be little opportunity for fraternisation, debate and the sharing of ideas.
These type of group exercises often bring home to both us and those who attend the similarities they share and the unique nature of the business.
For example, advisers will certainly know that equity release business does not walk in the door but instead it has to be nurtured over a long period. This means that equity release advisers often take care of their business marketing or lead generation with much more care. Referrals are built up from existing clients or referrals from other advisers, solicitors, accountants, charities, etc, all of which require long-term effort.
This means that both the equity release client bank and sales process are unique. Most customers are seen within normal business hours in their own home and when the business is completed the gratitude they show is particularly satisfying.
The level of empathy required from equity release advisers is enormous and the idiosyncrasies of this customer segment are endless.
In terms of advisory support, there are no “killer” research applications available that make giving the advice foolproof. Experienced advisers need to know the provider’s products and criteria intimately to meet the needs of their customers as well as juggling with state benefits, possible grants and a whole host of other issues.
Uniquely within this sector, the sales process dictates that advisers need to try to dissuade customers from proceeding before they can purchase.
Dealing with the emotional needs of clients and up to three generations of their family is yet another part of the job that goes unnoticed.
Therefore, what I think unites advisers who regularly write equity release business is not just their recognition of its strategic importance but more the desire to help people and make a difference to the quality of their lives.
When we consider exactly what equity release advisers are going through and the amount of hurdles they have to overcome, it is perhaps not surprising that the regulator is wary of advisers who hold the qualifications but write only a handful of cases. Equity release advice should be a full-time commitment and this is why we recommend that advisers are specialists dedicated to the sector.
Given the nature of the adviser, providers have their own job to do in order to support them. This involves educating consumers, while demystifying and destigmatising equity release. In this sense we have some considerable work to do. However, it will be through this process that we generate greater interest in equity release as a solution and from this advisers will feel the benefit of making lead generation much easier.
There is certainly a circle to be squared here and it has never been more apparent that we are all in this together.
Peter Welch is head of sales and distribution at Bridgewater Equity Release