However, it also found that only 8% of advisers admit to feeling uncomfortable tackling conversations on potential health issues, particularly those that are considered invisible, where it is not immediately obvious the client suffers from a condition or illness.
Mental anguish and strain
“There are many invisible illnesses that often take many years to diagnose for suffers,” said Jacqueline Lockie, head of financial planning at the Chartered Institute for Securities and Investment (CISI), told International Adviser. “The pain, coupled with uncertainty and often long waiting times before diagnosis, not only impacts our physical but also our mental health.
“This, in turn, can cloud our judgement or it might take us longer to fully understand the implications of the financial advice being given.
“Some vulnerabilities can be temporary and the situation might appear to be resolved,” Lockie said. “But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the mental anguish and strain goes away too.
“There are other areas where the vulnerability is temporary, so I’m not in favour of advisers specialising in dealing with vulnerable clients because I believe that all advisers should be armed with appropriate skills to be able to spot potential situations and support clients through the process, whether the vulnerability is permanent, temporary or visible or not.
“Advisers don’t need to have in-depth knowledge of illnesses to advise in situations like this, but they do need to empathise, ensure that they have thought through and have processes in place to support clients in situations such as those who suffer with endometriosis and other invisible illnesses.”
Knowing the illnesses
Standard Life conducted the survey in partnership with Endometriosis UK, a charity dedicated to helping women suffering with the condition.
Endometriosis is a gynaecological condition where tissue, like the lining of the womb, grows in other areas of the body, most commonly in the pelvic region.
While there is some knowledge of the condition in the advice industry, one in five (22%) advisers have never heard of endometriosis and a quarter of advisers (24%) don’t know if a condition like endometriosis could have an impact on a sufferers’ approach to financial planning.
A further 10% think endometriosis doesn’t have any consequences to sufferers at all, either financially or physically.
The head of the Quilter Financial Adviser School, Darren Smith, told IA: “Right from when potential students attend their assessment centre, we are trying to identify their questioning technique and look for those with a natural ability to ask open and closed questions.
“It also allows us an early opportunity to explain the importance of developing the necessary skills to ask what, at times, are difficult questions, alongside achieving the relevant knowledge to provide the best advice possible to clients.
“Giving a client holistic financial advice is only ever possible if you have a full and complete picture of their life and medical problems are often a crucial part of this.
“Building trust encourages clients to talk about themselves and advisers can often identify medical problems through asking specific questions, but that only happens if an adviser has developed these essential soft-skills.
“Getting advisers comfortable about talking about medical problems is especially crucial when it comes to considering protection products, and this in turn allows an adviser to consider whether certain providers treat conditions differently.
“This could lead to approaching a specialist insurer or one with enhanced terms or specific underwriting criteria.”
Clients with invisible illnesses
A recent survey undertaken by Endometriosis UK highlighted that the condition can affect planning for the future, as nearly nine in 10 (87%) women with endometriosis believe the condition has impacted their long-term financial situation.
Also, research found 54% of women with endometriosis experience a reduction in their earnings, some 44% feel they are unable to save and 28% have depleted their current savings.
Nearly half (47%) of women stated that receiving knowledgeable advice, support and understanding from a skilled financial adviser would help their financial well-being.
Over a third (35%) believe there must be more product innovation to support inconsistent or low-income savers.
Smith added: “At the Quilter Financial Adviser School, we focus on developing these skills within our students, but we also teach them about a range of medical issues and how they might impact someone’s financial well being.
“Through their questioning technique, students know to ask the right questions; so that, even if they don’t know much about a specific medical issue, they can still understand how that issue manifests itself and provide a financial plan which takes this into account.
“It is essential that advisers feel comfortable having quite emotive and difficult conversations with their clients about the financial protection of their loved ones, if they were to fall seriously ill or pass away.
“A protection product is a financial lifeline to a family at a difficult time and financial planners should see it as their duty to offer it,” Smith said.