In the Spotlight with Alice Watson, Canada Life

We spoke to Alice Watson, head of insurance marketing at Canada Life, about the main opportunities and potential risks in the current equity release market and why it's a great time for advisers to get to know their BDMs.

Related topics:  In The Spotlight   |   Rozi Jones
26th June 2020
Alice Watson, Canada Life
"As the market continues to evolve and respond to the pandemic, advisers can use this time to continue to improve their knowledge and understanding of the later life sector."

FR: What does your day-to-day role at Canada Life involve?

My role involves developing and implementing marketing strategies across home finance, annuities and protection. This means that I work closely with these teams to understand their overarching strategies and core objectives - and then consider how to help the business to not only achieve, but also maximise these goals. I also work closely with the sales, product and operation teams, to make sure that we’re aligned across the business and are putting our customers at the heart of everything we do.

FR: How has your role been impacted by Covid-19?

No one could have predicted that a global pandemic was going to change the ways in which we work this year. We’ve had to adjust our plans accordingly, which has been a steep learning curve for all of us, and we’re now considering how Covid-19 impacts our teams and strategy moving forwards.

Where previously - like most in the industry - I spent lots of time in face-to-face meetings, my days are now focused around seeing people on screen. Like everything, working virtually has its positives and negatives. It can be a productive way of working, but it’s been a big adjustment, so establishing a routine has been crucial for me. I find that simple measures such as setting a consistent start and end time for work and taking breaks during the day help to keep me focused. And, with less time spent commuting, I’m able to switch off and enjoy a long walk each evening.

FR: The equity release market has seen significant changes since the outbreak of Covid-19, what do you consider the main opportunities and potential risks in the current market?

It’s been great to see the equity release market pull together over the last few months and rise to the challenge of coronavirus. Not only has it encouraged the industry to go more digital, increasing the importance of online application systems, but it’s encouraged lenders to adopt new ways of working, with the introduction of remote valuations and non face-to-face legal advice. Whether we keep all of these measures in place after lockdown eases is still to be decided, but they’ve allowed us to continue operating in a safe and responsible way.

From a customer point of view, lockdown has provided an opportune time for those approaching, and in retirement, to reflect on their wants, needs and priorities both over the short and long-term, and how they can be achieved. In terms of potential risks, Covid-19 has caused short-term cash flow challenges for some, which may lead some customers to consider unlocking equity from their homes potentially for the wrong reasons. As an industry, it’s therefore vital that we remind customers that equity release is a long-term commitment that should be carefully considered, which is why it is an advised sale. Ultimately, it may not suit everyone, and for some clients, downsizing or spending other assets first, such as their savings or investments, may be a better solution to get the most from their retirement income.

FR: How is Canada Life supporting home finance advisers during these times?

As a lender, we’re working extremely hard to ensure we’re keeping advisers up to speed with any changes to processes or existing product ranges as a result of the rapidly changing environment. This includes not only regular newsletters, but also dedicated information and coronavirus support hubs where advisers can find all of the updated information they need. We’ve also created webinars for the adviser community, giving intermediaries the chance to learn about the changes being made across the market, as well as helping them improve their understanding of the sector.

Since the outbreak of coronavirus, we’ve adjusted our processes to support advisers to allow them to continue doing business, for example introducing remote valuations when physical valuations were not possible under lockdown restrictions.

FR: What advice would you give to intermediaries who are looking to enter the equity release market?

There’s a whole range of resources that have been made freely available to advisers, and it’s important to make the most of these. At Canada Life, we offer a workshop series to intermediaries operating in the later life lending market, which includes our Equity Release Exam, Setting the Standard, and Lead Generation workshops. Through these sessions, advisers can continue to learn with us, while hearing about best practice in the industry. We’re also proud to be supporting the Equity Release Council’s Competency Framework, which has been designed for advisers of all abilities. It’s through this sharing of knowledge that we can continue to support advisers to deliver a high standard of advice in the sector, ultimately ensuring the best possible outcomes for homeowners.

With many of us now adjusting to new daily routines, it’s a great time for advisers to get to know their BDMs and others in their network. As the market continues to evolve and respond to the pandemic, advisers can use this time to continue to improve their knowledge and understanding of the later life sector.

FR: If you could see one headline about the equity release market this year, what would it be?

The headline I’d most like to see this year would show how equity release has helped homeowners. I really enjoy hearing the difference it has made to people’s lives, be it taking financial pressure and stresses off their shoulders, or how it’s helped them to make the most of their retirement. With the full impact of Covid-19 still unclear, it’s very difficult to know how new business volumes will be affected, but my ideal headline would read ‘Equity release helps 50,000 homeowners in 2020, up from 45,000 in 2019’.

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