Photograph of Andrea Rozario, the author of this document.

Standards and Safeguards Continue to Evolve

What’s the best sign of a buoyant market? It can’t always come down to the bottom line and cold hard turnover and takings. For me, one of the best signs that a market is doing particularly well is nothing to do with the figures, and more to do with something a little more nuanced. Namely, how many eyeballs and how much scrutiny is on everything you do. Or, to put it another way, how many standards and safeguards are in place to ensure that your customers only ever get the best of the best.

For equity release, the progression made towards a safe and respected marketplace is, I think, and certainly for those who specialise, extensive. That’s not to say that there isn’t a distance left to travel, but the dark days are firmly behind us. Today’s industry is packed with safeguards, advice standards and protections for all our customers. But we can always go further. So, it’s good to see that yet another level of safety, security, and peace of mind has been added for our clients in the form of the recent Society of Later Life Advisers equity release advice standard announcement*.

SOLLA’s new standard, The Later Life Lending Advice Standard (shortened to the catchy – LLLAS), will cover a broad spectrum of different technical and in-depth features of modern equity release, but will also involve a deep dive into broader later life issues, such as vital considerations for care planning, information on benefits availability and, critically important in today’s world, training in vulnerable client care. The standard will be offered via a computer-based system, as is the modern Covid-secure way, and will surely help advisers, especially those who may struggle to get the training and support gained from being with a specialist company, stay clued up on the very best practices available.

Beyond all these things to celebrate, this new standard will also further in our fight to make equity release the mainstream stalwart it deserves to be. After all, more safeguards and advice standards like these are not red tape, hoops to jump through or bureaucracy, they are the sign of a strong and growing market. The more standards are developed, the stronger the general adviser pool becomes and awareness of equity release continues to grow. Alongside this, product innovation and increasing flexibility will no doubt also flourish.

Spreading interest, understanding and trust in equity release and later life lending is key to our growth and success, and efforts like this from SOLLA will help to raise awareness.

However it appears that still too many are simply dipping their toe into equity release, and we still need to make sure that advisers are fully aware of what is required to advise in this specialist area along with the range of skills needed to ensure the best customer outcome. They need to adhere to the multiple safeguards and understand the required processes. With an adviser population focussed on the needs of the older client, I foresee a continuing improvement in customer care and general growth in the market.

To support this, we need customers and the mainstream press to understand the safeguards and standards that have been implemented over the years by the likes of the Equity Release Council, the FCA and specialist companies who take the training and development of their advisers very seriously. Training programmes like the LLLAS can only help move the market and understanding of the products and customer needs forward and continue to improve the reputation of our industry and support of advisers more generally.

As the global Covid pandemic draws on, one thing that successful markets and businesses need to do is to keep evolving. As an industry, these past few years have been strong. The expected dip in business caused by the pandemic must not derail us from our path to mainstream acceptance. SOLLA’s announcement feels like yet another step in the right direction. The recognition that this is a complicated area to advise in and many skills are required to deal with the more vulnerable client is important, so advisers who are looking to move into this arena need to take it seriously.