It is easy to dismiss the need to deal with vulnerable clients as at the fringes of advice, not something really applicable to you. But with one in five of us likely to develop dementia, and one in four of us suffering from some form of mental illness at any one time, it is inconceivable an adviser does not have several people who could be deemed vulnerable in some way at some point in time. Wealth, intelligence and success provide no immunity to mental health problems. Developing a policy is the minimum. Training staff to cope with these circumstances, which can be harrowing, is the right approach in my opinion.
There are obvious issues to consider around communication methods. Is a written letter appropriate on its own? Is the timing appropriate for a meeting? Who else should be involved?
In many cases there will be other people affected by the situation and it might be relevant to involve all parties. This could include legal advisers.
It will be vital for the adviser to set out the parameters of their relationship. I have encountered circumstances where unrealistic expectations have been set, with clients expecting their planner to control spending sprees, referee family disputes and micro manage personal finances. There are clear legal, financial and moral obligations which impact on the scope of an adviser’s role. Importantly, it should be very clear that regardless of the relationship of adviser and client, the adviser is not qualified to offer medical or psychological advice. Further thoughts on how this should be defined and explained to protect all concerned should be welcomed.
Phil Young is managing director of Threesixty