Equity Release Council announces initiatives to boost sector standards

The Equity Release Council has announced a range of initiatives at its Annual General Meeting to help firms deliver a high standard of support for home owners looking at equity release and later life financial planning.

At a time when the equity release market continues to grow and evolve, the projects are designed to support both new and existing practitioners in an increasingly active and diverse market.

The initiatives include a new competency framework to help guide industry professionals on the journey from entering the market to competent status. The council says that the framework will help businesses to benchmark the technical, business and interpersonal knowledge, experience and skills needed to deliver various roles effectively, with a particular focus on financial and legal advice.

By defining best practice in the current evolving market and anticipating future needs, it will also guide practitioners as they seek out continuing professional development opportunities. Once published, the framework will enable new partnership and mentoring schemes across the later life arena.

The Council is also pursuing the topic with awarding bodies and industry partners to review the current qualification structures for equity release and later life financial planning as the market continues to evolve.

The aim is to explore how future vocational qualification programmes can best reflect the increasingly broad and diverse market, where a growing range of product choices have emerged to suit various consumer needs at different stages of later life.

Following the publication of the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) Mortgages Market Study final report, the Council is also working with the Single Financial Guidance Body, the Money and Pensions Service (MAPS), industry and regulators to improve the online tools available for consumers to find a suitable adviser to discuss their needs.

Proposals to expand the Money Advice Service’s existing Retirement Adviser Directory will complement consumers’ ability to identify whether an advice firm is a member of the Council and committed to follow its standards, rules and guidance, alongside its regulatory duties.

The new initiatives form part of the Council’s ongoing work to promote high standards of conduct and practice across the market. A recent member survey showed that 65% feel that improving adviser training and CPD is an important priority to ensure consumers can access the right advice as demand for equity release continues to grow.

The AGM also heard John Glen, Economic Secretary to the Treasury, deliver a keynote speech on the growing appeal of equity release and the importance of innovation, flexibility and support for consumers.

‘Equity release is now part of mainstream financial planning, and an increasingly attractive way to give homeowners more control over their money. For some this means maintaining quality of life in retirement; for others it is about meeting the cost of long term care, for others it is about enabling financial support for their children and grandchildren, he told the meeting.

‘The challenge ahead is to continue providing innovation, flexibility and support for consumers to make the right decisions for themselves and their families. The Council’s ongoing work to ensure members guarantee both structured financial advice and legal guidance is commendable, and a key part of the effort to keep building visibility and trust in the market,’ he said.

‘I am a genuine admirer and ally of the equity release sector in the Treasury, and look forward to hearing new ideas and solutions about how equity release can help our financial system serve the changing needs of society,’ he added.

The Council’s membership has now grown to 350 firms and it will register its 1,000th individual member this month, following a record year in 2018 where members helped nearly 83,000 customers to access £3.94 billion of property wealth.

‘We are already seeing that the UK’s ageing population is bringing increased demand for access to high quality financial advice to help meet people’s financial needs in later life,’ said David Burrowes, chairman of the Equity Release Council.

‘The market has seen unprecedented change and growth in the seven years since the Council expanded to become a fully representative trade body in 2012. However, the fundamental need for qualified and regulated financial advice, alongside clear product safeguards and independent legal advice, remains as important as ever for today’s customers,’ he pointed out.

‘The option to unlock property wealth has become an increasingly common item on older homeowners’ checklist to consider. These initiatives will help to ensure they can continue to access the right advice and support to make retirement funding decisions,’ he added.