By Will Hale, CEO at Key Later Life Finance
The pandemic has touched all of our lives whether you have lost loved ones, been ill yourself, found that the line between work and home has been irreversibly blurred or simply tried to keep yourself together in a world that is familiar yet strangely different. It hasn’t been easy and for many, and it still isn’t.
However, at the risk of being labelled an optimist, one positive to come out of the last two years of turmoil is the increased focus on mental health, and any resulting vulnerabilities, alongside the increased willingness for open discussion if people are struggling. This is especially pertinent in the work environment, where we are finding that colleagues are more prepared to ask for help and to engage in proper dialogue around what support they might require.
To support our teams over this period, we provided access to mental health first aiders and an employee assistance programme as well as actively encouraging managers to take the time to regularly, and informally, check in on members of their team. With business volumes lower during some periods and some teams less busy than usual, we also focused on upskilling colleagues and helping people to build up their industry knowledge.
At Key Later Life Finance, not only were we deeply concerned about the impact on our colleagues but also our customers as they are on average 70 years old. With the Government asking over-65s and those who were clinically vulnerable to shield, how we supported them as they navigated this unprecedented and often lonely experience was also front of mind.
Taking a step back, we made the choice to focus on supporting customers who had a pressing financial need, rather than a discretionary desire. Encouraging people to wait to access the equity in their homes until they could spend it and potentially benefit from a wider range of products or a better LTVs, only seemed sensible.
Choosing the right later life lending product for your individual circumstances is something that needs to be done with a focus on what is right for you, now and in the future, so we also introduced a process whereby clients who flagged the pandemic as the main driver behind their decision were considered more vulnerable.
Vulnerability is a topic that is widely discussed within the financial services industry and while older customers are not necessarily vulnerable, they are more prone to vulnerability due to their age. Changes to family support systems, more time spent alone or isolated and the rise in loneliness as a result of the pandemic all served to impact people’s mental health and were topics that were considered as part of the advice process.
At Key, we use vulnerability champions who are colleagues from across the business who are on hand to support advisers, as well as members of our contact centre team, should they be concerned about a specific customer or their circumstances. Whether it is helping a colleague adapt processes to support someone who may have a hearing impairment or sitting in on a meeting to ensure the customer fully understands all their options, these champions provide invaluable front line support.
Face-to-face advice had always been fundamental to Key’s offering as we believe in the personal touch and helping to support people in the comfort of their own homes but lockdowns forced us to rethink this approach. Zoom and telephone appointments became more common and while as the world opens up, we are once again offering face-to-face advice, we find customers preferences have changes and many appreciate the opportunity to choose the channel of engagement that suits them best.
While the pandemic has fundamentally changed how many of us live both our personal as well as business lives, I am hopeful that as we mark Mental Health Awareness week that some good can come of this. Principally, that we will keep having these conversations with clients, partners and colleagues and when someone says they are fine, we look beyond this statement.