Jade Khao

Despite the stress involved with helping clients through the coronavirus crisis and nursing their own practice through a challenging period, advice industry associations report that their members are still reluctant to use programs designed to support their mental health and wellness.

This is despite the programs and services being at no extra cost, and confidential.

The Association of Financial Advisers and the Financial Planning Association both report that usage of their assistance programs has been unexpectedly low during the crisis, indicating that the stigma associated with mental health still remains.

The associations both offer an assistance program to members that connects them through to provider Benestar, who offer services ranging from organisation performance and individual wellbeing to workforce wellness and incident management.

According to Jade Khao, a practice manager with ANZ and chapter chair at the Financial Planning Association, overall usage of the FPA’s service has been “low”.

“Are advisers acting like the many Australians who don’t seek advice themselves?” she asks.

The AFA’s chief executive, Phil Kewin, reports a slightly higher take up but one nonetheless well below expectations.

“We get a regular confidential dash board that shows that there is usage but relative to the stress expected it has been low,” Kewin says. “We know people access the content hub, but still, it’s not as many as you would expect.”

Khao says there are a number of potential reasons for the lack of usage. Speaking on her own behalf and not as a representative of the FPA or her employer, she adds that the availability of the programs could be communicated better.

Otherwise, Khao notes, there could be a lack of trust and confidence in the privacy of the service. This could also be linked to the perceived stigma associated with mental health issues and the implications this could have for insurance underwriting.

The issue around insurance, especially, is one Kewin thinks may play a part in the dynamic. Even if the counselling service is confidential, financial advisers are more acutely aware of the underwriting process and concerned about the implications of not making insurers aware of it.

“No doubt there’s a hesitancy,” Kewin says. “Advisers do think about that.”

Being at the coalface reminding clients to be transparent in their insurance disclosure might have a prohibitive effect on advisers considering reaching out for help, Kewin explains.

“Advisers know because they tell their clients that they need to be fully open in their applications,” he says. “If I went to see help it’s on the record and therefore something that I’d have to disclose. It’s part of the hesitancy.”