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I recently posted that July 2019 is the 40th anniversary of when I started working in insurance. I still remember shyly walking in the doors of Eagle Star Sutton and setting to work as an underwriting assistant in the “all-in” department – where we issued and managed commercial and personal package policies.
Knowing this about me, it will come as no surprise to discover I am old enough to have parents in their 80’s. Neither are able to deal with their finances and for different reasons (my dad has dementia) both live in a care home.
So, this means both of my parents are vulnerable consumers and, despite my knowledge of financial services, I also have the potential to be a vulnerable consumer when I am dealing with issues on their behalf.
One element of vulnerability is where someone becomes susceptible because “a firm is not acting with appropriate levels of care". I wanted to share some of my experiences – maybe someone in a financial services firm will listen and do something.
The first thing I should share is that we have a Lasting Power of Attorney in place for both my parents. It was registered by the public guardian in June 2009. This is a hugely precious document for us, it costs money to complete and register and you cannot get a new one when someone loses capacity (as is the case with my dad).
Example1. Financial institutions need to see the original LPA (or copy authenticated by a solicitor). In most cases I have been able to take the LPA into a local branch but in two cases the person at the branch did not copy all the pages (missing the fact it is a double sided document) which they sent off to their head office and I had to go back in and repeat the process.
Example 2. One firm told me that it could only add the LPA and my name to my mother’s account if I told them she “lacked capability”. This is not correct, and I had to make a complaint to resolve this matter. Part of this same complaint was that the customer services ended a call because I had said “I am so f***** off with this” on the basis I was being abusive to her. Not my best moment, but I was very frustrated at this point.
Example 3. My mum likes to use her debit card to pay for expenses she incurs – for example, she buys her own glasses and toiletries and occasionally is taken out shopping. Despite setting up the LPA, her current account provider will only allow one debit card on the account. So either I have one (allowing me to undertake her on-line banking and get cash out for her) and she doesn’t, or she has one and I don’t, which prevents me from doing a lot of what she needs me to do.
Example 4. Several times I have been into branches to discuss the accounts (where the LPA is registered and their records show this) but they refuse to talk to me without seeing the LPA again (strangely enough I don’t carry it around with me!).
Example 5. I recently rang to advise a change of address for my dad’s pension. I registered the LPA many years ago and the provider has the correct address (which I would have told them) and I have other letters from them addressed to me. They now tell me they cannot find the LPA and I have to post them the original or authenticated copy. They suggested it may be he has two pensions with them and the LPA is registered with one but not the other.
From the outside looking at each of the examples I have given, each one may seem minor and easily resolved, but please remember this is in the context of all the other work that needs to be done to help elderly parents.
The branch customer service assistant who could not help me because she needed to see the LPA, although she could see from the system that it had been registered at their head office. I left the branch with no solution other than to return with the LPA. She rung me several hours later to say she had made a number of calls to head office and obtain permission to make the changes without me bringing the LPA back into the branch.
The complaints manager who said shared my concerns and assured me she would be recommending staff training.
The branch manager who apologised profusely for the errors in photocopying my LPA and got the correct copy processed urgently, telephoning me several times to update me.
There needs to be a balance, but it seems to me that most firms see their priority is to stick to a standard approach without any flexibility - essentially the "computer says no" approach. I wonder whether the fact they are speaking to me, rather than my mum or dad, leads to an attitude that I am not the vulnerable party and an assumption that by making it difficult for me they are protecting my parents.
We have an aging population, people are growing older and with a variety of health issues that mean they struggle to deal with their finances – this is becoming a huge issue and firms need to be dealing with them much better.
I note the Office of the Public Guardian plan for 2019/2020 states that it is their aim to move to an online service. This would be a huge improvement if this meant all LPA’s were on a central register allowing attorney’s to simply give a company the code/link to view the LPA and they could just look it up and see it.
So at the moment, I am still feeling frustrated – the OPG work gives me some comfort things will improve but I see very little understanding from many front line customer service staff or those writing the processes around LPA’s.
If any firms need help from someone with Conduct Risk experience and a personal understanding of the difficulties of vulnerable consumers then please contact me - I provide healthcheck, advice and training, including an e-learning course which can be found on my e-learning page.
Author: Sally Pearce (Conduct Matters Ltd)