29 Jun 2015
Pauline Fowler comments in The Independent On Sunday
If prejudice is dead, does LGBT advice have a place?
Felicity Hannah | Independent on Sunday
Insurers are no longer making sexuality a big issue with their clients, says Felicity Hannah, but a tailored service does provide reassurance
There’s no such thing as a gay mortgage or lesbian life insurance, yet a number of financial advisers specialise in providing advice to members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities. The website LGBT.co.uk suggests that, although there have been huge steps forward in terms of equality, it is still useful for its readers to seek guidance from dedicated, LGBT-friendly independent financial advisers (IFAs). So is there really a need for minorities to seek specialist advice?
Historically, there certainly was. Chris Morgan is practice manager at Compass, a mortgage and insurance advice service that specialises in looking after gay, lesbian, transgender and HIV-positive clients. He has spent much of his career working to end discrimination among insurers against the gay community. He says that in the past there has been a real need for IFAs who could champion their customers’ interests and steer them towards providers that were less likely to treat them badly simply as a result of their sexuality.
“Going back a decade, there was a lot of discrimination towards gay people by the insurance industry in particular, which of course knocked on to their ability to get mortgages,” explains Mr Morgan. “Gay men used to be sent for an automatic HIV test by insurance companies and there were lifestyle questionnaires where they would ask about a gay person’s sexual behaviour. There was even a thing called speculative underwriting, where insurers would speculate about a person’s sexuality based on their occupation. For example, male ballet dancers and hairdressers would routinely be automatically sent for an HIV test. That only came to an end in 2005.”
Today, however, a lot has changed. Insurers will not ask life insurance applicants about their sexuality; instead, all life and general protection applicants are asked a general question about whether they have been exposed to the risk of HIV infection in the past five years. Some insurers may ask whether the applicant practises safe sexual behaviour, but their actual sexuality is not considered relevant.
On top of that, there has been real progress in terms of equal marriage, so surely gay and lesbian people can now simply gain access to standard financial advice? Certainly, some of them question the need for tailored advice, since the products they would be buying are the same for everybody.
Lizzie Cass-Maran, who lives in Scotland with her wife and their daughter, says she would be confused if an IFA firm advertised itself as gay-friendly: “Financial stuff isn’t really sexual – not the way I do it, anyway … I’ve never come across financial advice that isn’t LGBT-friendly. In a way, if someone was marketing itself as that then I’d think they hadn’t got many other selling points.”
However, Erin Hardee, a civil partner, counters: “Not on the financial side, but if I knew a firm was less likely to ‘misgender’ my partner, as in always refer to ‘your husband’ or assume I’m a ‘Mrs’, I might be less inclined to give them a go. It’s not a big deal, but those little micro-aggressions can really add up.”
Mr Morgan agrees that many still prefer a tailored service. “I spend most of my time these days planning life assurance for gay families – gay parenting is exploding,” he says. “We look after gay couples who have children, transgender people who have children. Last week I arranged life insurance for someone who is intersex. There is definitely a demand for a financial adviser within the LGBT community.”
For some people, that demand is driven by a desire to keep their relationship status private. Mr Morgan explains: “A person’s sexuality can be a private issue that they don’t want in the public domain. For example, a client came to me recently who really didn’t want to talk about his personal affairs with a local IFA – he came from a small village in Scotland.
“Then there was a young guy in Manchester who simply did not want his parents to find out about his sexuality, so did not want to use a local adviser. People have their own reasons for using an LGBT financial adviser.
“So there’s discretion and privacy, but also understanding and empathy with their circumstances. Gay parents, for example, or alternative parents like trans parents, come to me because they feel they can discuss their affairs openly without judgement or any issues.”
That concern about encountering prejudice, even if it is no longer hardwired into the industry, is a reason why some people still prefer to seek targeted advice. Arlene Addison is the managing director of the LGBT.co.uk site and she says that it can be very reassuring to deal with a firm that presents itself as gay-friendly.
“Financial advice is still a very conservative area and mainly male. The few IFAs that specifically identify themselves as LGBT-friendly simply reassure their clients that they won’t face discrimination or any awkwardness, and that goes a long way towards making people more comfortable.”
Another area where customers may prefer specialist knowledge is insurance for those living with HIV. While it would be wrong to classify anyone in this position as simply a sub-set of the LGBT community, Mr Morgan suggests that many HIV-positive people of any orientation will prefer to approach an LGBT-friendly financial adviser. “Sometimes they simply don’t want to share their health status with a bank, building society or mainstream broker,” he explains.
In terms of legal advice, sometimes having greater experience in looking after the interests of same-sex couples or trans individuals can make a considerable difference to the financial outcome achieved. Pauline Fowler is a partner at the family law firm Hughes Fowler Carruthers. She has experience in dealing with the breakdown of marriages and civil partnerships within the LGBT community, and warns that these break-ups may need to be handled differently to standard divorces.
“Quite a lot of gay couples may have been together since their 20s but only formalised it years later,” she explains. “They will need to be advised on what that might mean if they break up; do they realise that a court looking at the breakdown of the relationship might consider that they have had a 25-year marriage rather than a two-year one?”
Advice from someone who has worked in this area can make a big difference, she argues. “There can also be massive issues about children because of the ways in which lesbian and gay people have to go through hoops to start families -making it especially important to seek legal advice from someone familiar with the community.
A legal expert with plenty of experience of LGBT clients will also understand their expectations in a way that perhaps a more mainstream professional would not.
“For example, there are issues of whether or not you expect to provide financial support to a working partner after the end of the relationship,” Ms Fowler adds. “A lot of men with a non-working wife would assume they have to provide for an ex, but that is not necessarily hardwired into the brains of gay and lesbian people. That’s just an example, but it shows that it is helpful to take advice from somebody who is not fazed – who will ask the right questions and get to the heart of the matter quite quickly. Of course, the same is true of any set of people who are getting divorced: they need a decent lawyer who understands their situation to advise them.”
Karen Barrett at the advice site Unbiased.co.uk says the demand for such advice illustrates the need for IFAs who can understand a customer’s specific needs. “Generally, I don’t think that this group need particular advice, but the point about financial advice is that it is tailored to each individual’s needs. It’s whatever makes people happy and comfortable discussing their finances. I recommend you ring around at least three different advisers to discuss your needs. You want to find out who they help and how they can help you, but there also needs to be an individual chemistry. Finances are a personal issue and the British often have reservations about imparting any information about earnings or savings. The most important thing is to ensure you are happy and comfortable with an adviser, and that they understand what you want and what your goals are.”
As Ms Fowler concludes: “You don’t need a gay mortgage or a gay pension, but you might want to speak to somebody who can understand what your life is about and what the pressures are.”