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The real deal

If I am honest, I tire of those regular phone calls conducting market surveys for life offices. I am sure my criticisms of service standards will do nothing towards the closing down of the call centres, the piped music and boring voices telling us someone will “be with you shortly” followed by our losing the will to live while waiting an interminable age, only to be told that the information we want will take three weeks to produce.

At times like this, I realise I only really enjoy the job because of clients, the real people I deal with and whom the call centres have moved a million miles away from. The call centres make my own proposition look so much better.

Then I consider the morning post. The technical bulletins tell me that politicians have changed tack on pensions or IHT. I remind myself that it will be up to me and other practitioners to interpret what it will mean for our clients.

Whether we are additionally taking up time with an IT consultant, our stationery suppliers, printers, PII brokers or the regulator, the main reason that we are in business is to provide a service to real people. We just want enough of them paying us money in one form or another to pay for all our costs, including the earnings of everyone working for us.

Real people. People who worry about money. People trying to raise families, educate children, buy homes, run businesses, plan for retirement and each one coping with all that life throws at them in different ways.

Over the years, most of us have dealt with clients in highly emotional circumstances. In some situations, the financial planning advice has been materially important. Reviewing trusts, electing for a single life annuity because one spouse is terminally ill and so on. It might be referred to as clients putting their house in order and, on occasion, it requires courage. Real people living real lives. All these situations will have engaged the attention of most advisers.

In recent times, I have had many life insurance, critical-illness and disability claims. Resulting payments have answered the personal and business questions for which they were effected.

Why am I writing today about such matters? Because of so many claims in the past five years? Absolutely. Personal experience? Definitely and nothing is as awesome as seeing someone cope with serious and terminal illness much better than those around them.

So all of this has inspired me to write about flesh and blood real people. But my main motivation for doing so is that I see an industry competing for investment money, talking of attitudes to risk and investment allocation and performance. I just hope we have a sense of balance and fervently hope that, in addition, we are not forgetting pure and simple protection issues. We had better remember that in some cases, investment monies have come from the preservation and enhancement of estates through protection products.

Advice on financial protec-tion requires us to know our client and their attitude towards responsibilities for family and business. This is another way of saying “attitude to risk” – a risk, in such cases, best laid off with an insurance company.

Such advice requires empathy. Each of us knows that without heart and compassion, we can be traffic wardens but not financial advisers. Never more so than when considering that financial planning should be about maintaining a standard of living – whatever happens.

Are we sure that all our clients have had their financial protection needs reviewed? Or have they got just about enough in investments to cover being eventually swallowed up in inheritance tax?

Would not insuring make common sense? I suspect we can all do better.

Lee Warwick is chairman of Warwick Butchart Associates

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