Vulnerability and Debt

Wednesday 18 July, 2018 Mental Health

One of the most significant and topical issues in the money advice industry at present is that of vulnerable clients. Working with people who have, by definition, experienced very difficult circumstances, can be extremely challenging. Money worries cause a level of emotional and personal distress that demand a high level of care and service. After all, individuals don’t seek compromise agreements with their creditors because things have been going well. They seek help because they’ve experienced unexpected, sometimes permanent, turbulence in their personal life. It goes without saying that such change is very traumatic.

How do we define vulnerability and what measures can be taken by advisors to alleviate the stress clients are under? According to Stepchange ( see here), a workable definition of vulnerability (in the context of debt) is someone finding it difficult to address a debt problem because of their personal and financial circumstances.

Issues that engender vulnerability include, but are not limited to: stress, bereavement, mental health conditions, long term illness, disability, separation, homelessness and addiction. The list is not exhaustive, but issues such as these can induce a feeling of helplessness for individuals.

The existence of these underlying factors can prevent those afflicted from seeking the help they need. Those in need of money advice sometimes avoid seeking help out of fear of judgment, embarrassment or any of the other negative emotions that debt can induce. Some also fear that their advisor either won’t take their vulnerability into consideration or won’t be sufficiently empathetic to understand.

It’s a matter that requires sensitivity and tact, and an understanding that vulnerability is a serious consideration. Whilst the vulnerability of an individual has always been important in the context of giving good debt advice, the industry is now under a greater obligation than ever before to ensure that vulnerability considerations are at the heart of client engagement, and constantly reviewed and reassessed throughout the client’s journey.

To that end, the Money Advice Trust has launched a useful guide to provide some clarity to advice agencies with regards to how they treat their vulnerable clients-see here. The Trust’s guidance reflects an increased focus on the issue within the industry.

The Trust mentions a recent survey by the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute that highlights the need for advice agencies to improve the way they address clients with mental health conditions. Worryingly, the survey revealed that 35% of respondents believed their mental health problem hadn’t been taken into account, even though they’d informed their advisor about it. The benefits of a more coherent approach within the industry are obvious, but there are plenty of things individual advisors can do to help vulnerable clients.

Attitude is obviously very important and building rapport is an essential component of effective client interaction. Vulnerable clients need to have trust in their advisor and be confident that their worries will be addressed in a caring, empathetic and compassionate manner. Clients also want to be assured that they won’t be judged in any way.

At Aperture, we are guided by a set of values that not only put our clients first, but demand a caring and compassionate approach at all times. We also take care to be non-judgmental in our attitude. Many of our clients suffer from mental health issues and we have worked hard to tailor our approach accordingly. Indeed, Aperture have undertaken some initiatives specifically designed to address the issue of client vulnerability.

For example, we trained staff members to identify potentially suicidal clients and provided techniques to identify those in need of help. More training is planned for later this year on this subject. In my own Variations team, we’re trained to ask clients who are vulnerable if they’re happy for their vulnerability to be recorded and reported to creditors, so that the totality of their circumstances is acknowledged and communicated, and can be taken into consideration at creditors’ meetings. The issue of vulnerability and the best way to address it is only going to become more pronounced within the money advice industry and awareness is crucial, therefore if you’re affected by such issues, you can contact Aperture on 0333 939 7919 and be sure that our advisors will treat your concerns with the care and empathy they deserve.