It has been an extraordinary quarter for the Equity Release Council as we continue to evolve and develop to reflect the growth and needs of the sector.
Since September both I, David Burrowes, our chairman and Donna Bathgate, our chief operating officer have spoken at events in Birmingham, Manchester, Warrington, London, Leeds and attended events including major party conferences in Bournemouth, York, Aberdeen, Gatwick, Edinburgh and Brighton among others. We will be looking forward to expanding this programme over the course of 2020 to ensure we can engage with all our members across the UK.
It has also been an exceptional time for the Council as our membership as the Equity Release Council saw a 97% rise in its membership over the last two years, increasing the total number of firms from 219 to 431. The body has also seen a 77% rise in the number of individual registrations, from 673 in December 2017 to 1,193 in January of this year. This is a mark of the importance of our sector and our Council.
At the same time the equity release sector continues to enjoy historically high levels of interest as greater product optionality and innovation is introduced to provide our customers with greater choice.
I am particularly delighted that we started this new year by implementing our outcome-based Standards. This resulted from our wish to evolve our standards to focus on outcomes for consumers, including how products, services and interaction with consumers can more effectively address and meet the needs of consumers in vulnerable circumstances. I am so grateful to the membership for engaging in the consultation process and for the Financial Conduct Authority, Money and Pensions Services and HM Treasury for also feeding into this process to provide, what we believe are the best standard benchmark for home-based products for later life lending.
This quarter we look forward to launching our competency framework for advisers and solicitors to support their progress from gaining a qualification (or in some cases, having qualified in the past but not being active since) to reach competent status. This is a valuable and important initiative that Donna Bathgate has been leading with support from members. Read more here.
In addition, I am delighted the our extremely helpful and much in-demand adviser guide, kindly sponsored by Pure, is being refreshed. Firms are invited to submit additional sections for the toolkit and anonymised case studies for the guide itself. It is likely these sections will carry the contributing firm’s branding and signposting.
As we look ahead to 2020 and the significant opportunity for the sector, I am delighted the Council will be hosting our first Equity Release Summit 2020, at Church House, Westminster. There is still time for you to book and attend. Please do see our website. We are extremely fortunate that major speakers will include Sir Hector Sants, chair of the Money and Pensions Service, Lord Willetts, chair of the Resolution Foundation, Sir Steve Webb, Rt Hon Damian Green MP and Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, among many others. This level of support for this event, with headline sponsor the Key Group, demonstrates the significance that our sector is viewed by major influencers and policy makers as a solution for major issues of public policy from care funding to retirement income.
We have also introduced it to reflect feedback from our last member survey where 33% of members wished to attend events hosted by the Equity Release Council. There can be few better events to attend.
Also, on that note – our next membership survey is due to be circulated soon. Please do respond if you want your voice to be heard! I take your responses very seriously and am developing our engagement programmes and other business plans to reflect your views.
I am also delighted to report back on our latest 360 degree benchmark review of the Council conducted with journalists, policymakers, board members and other key stakeholders which reference the Council as being “proactive, engaging and authoritative” as we continue to engage with major stakeholders with particular comment around our newly evolved standards, constitutional changes and enhanced communications through political lobbying and increased profile and proactive outreach to the regulator. The Council is committed to seeking to continue to provide greater membership value.
I would also invite you to read Prab Singh’s excellent contribution on how to address language barriers and cultural differences in order to raise standards of advice for ethnic minority clients.
In this expanded newsletter with wonderful insights from Jane King, on her interview by ITV on equity release and Q&A with Chris Smith from LV=, I can’t help but reflect on the ten-year challenge photos of adviser Matthew Phillips (elsewhere in this newsletter). I’m unsure whose been on the greater journey, Matthew or the sector itself. Matthew’s been a tremendously good sport by sharing his first staff photo from when he joined the industry, ten years ago. Fast-forward a decade and he picked up the Equity Release Awards’ adviser of the year, a truly remarkable achievement, as I’m sure you will agree.