Planners divided on mental health advice

Mental health is an issue growing across Australia and the financial services industry is responding.

AMP recently refreshed its mental health training program for financial advisers and the content now exceeds the minimum standards set by the Financial Services Council's Life Insurance Code.

Originally designed for consumer-facing insurance staff, the refresh aims to assist advisers in having challenging conversations with clients experiencing mental health issues.

AMP group executive of insurance Megan Beer says improving the outcomes of those living with mental health issues requires a holistic approach and the adviser, insurer and GP should all be on the same page.

Supporting this, Leading Advice managing director Katrina Haskew says financial advisers should have access to the same information as their client's doctor if they are to implement adequate estate planning and wealth protection strategies.

"New clients often turn up thinking we're only there to discuss how many zeroes they have in their bank accounts...This means they can become quite surprised when we ask the last time they visited their dentist, how much they typically sleep each night, or where they would rate their mental health on a scale of one to 10," Haskew says.

"Understanding your client's health and lifestyle is integral to providing effective financial advice. Any adviser who is not doing this is absolutely failing their clients, in my opinion."

Health & Finance Integrated chief executive William Johns shares a different view.

A 2016 Financial Planning Association CFP Professional of the Year Award nominee, Johns has completed a Master of Disability Policy and Practice from the Flinders University School of Medicine. He researched the specific issues people with mental health and disabilities face when dealing with Centrelink, superannuation, financial planning and financial institutions, and believes it is irresponsible for advisers without a relevant background to get involved at this level.

"What do you do if a client turns to you and says 'Actually, I am sick and I haven't told anybody'? What do you do beyond giving them the number for Beyond Blue? An adviser risks seriously damaging their client by trying to become an accidental counsellor or play the role of a psychiatrist," Johns says.

And while seeking advice is common following a diagnosis, Johns asks what if the client remains undiagnosed or is yet to be stabilised?

"It's difficult to know if they are truly happy with investment recommendations. It's also possible that your client is medicated to a point where their legal capacity to understand what they're being told is diminished despite them telling you they do," he says.

Johns, who is a former member of the FPA's board policy and regulations committee, says getting involved to such a personal extent without the necessary understanding is not in the best interests of the client or adviser.

This is an extract of a news story first published in the latest issue of Financial Standard. You can view the full article on our free iPad app.

Read more: AustraliaBeyond BlueFinancial AdviceFinancial Planning AssociationFinancial Services CouncilFinancial StandardFlinders University School of MedicineFPAKatrina HaskewLife InsuranceMegan BeerWilliam Johns
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