A revamped and united trade body is set to deal with issues such as increased life expectancy, writes Chris Prior, business development manager at Bridgewater Equity Release
While much of the coverage surrounding the Equity Release Council’s (ERC) launch and membership expansion – including what could be some influential articles in the national press – has been positive, there have been a minority of dissenting voices from certain quarters of the industry. The main concern seems to be that by opening its doors to advisers, lawyers and surveyors, the trade body risks losing its focus by becoming a jack of all trades, yet a master of none. There has also been the suggestion that by implementing a fresh set of standards for advisers it could somehow conflict or impede the regulations already issued by the Financial Services Authority.
Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but I respectfully disagree in this instance. Safe Home Income Plans (SHIP) reaching its 20th anniversary was as good a time as any to acknowledge and appreciate all it had achieved, but shake things up in an attempt to bring equity release to a new generation of homeowners. Casting its membership net wider was a natural progression and including all industry stakeholders increases the likelihood of all parties singing from the same hymn sheet and presenting a more balanced message to consumers.
It will also help the maintenance of high standards across the board too. After all, there is no point in providers adhering to such codes if this best practice is then going to be diluted by advisers not keeping up the good work.
I can’t say I agree with the point about potential regulatory interference either. SHIP has long had a provider code of conduct that goes above and beyond what was expected by the FSA, yet never impinged what the regulator was trying to achieve. This set of standards helped raise the bar and we have arrived at the stage where advisers actively want to become part of it to portray the best possible image to consumers. We live in an age where consumers can get honest feedback about their local pub or a three-star hotel in Outer Mongolia at the click of a button, and where citizen journalism is on the rise due to smartphones and social media outlets such as Twitter, so anything that helps our target audience understand and appreciate the standards we set for ourselves should be welcomed.
It is this proactivity on behalf of advisers that is integral to understanding what the ERC is trying to achieve. It is a not a trade body that is being foisted on equity release advisers, but one that was born out of a lengthy engagement process with brokers to establish what they wanted from such an organisation.
The key message that featured again and again was that intermediaries wanted a vehicle to get their message across and the structure of the revitalised model is such that all members have the opportunity to contribute their expertise and time to the benefit of their peers and have the chance to have their voice heard.
Greater life expectancy, dwindling state pensions and pressing long-term care needs mean that there has never been more potential demand for equity release. Given this set of circumstances, it seems fitting that the equity release market has a revamped and united trade body to help deal with this increased attention and at Bridgewater we are confident that the ERC will help consumer awareness grow and ensure that all industry stakeholders are on message and adhering to the highest possible standards.