When you think of the average internet user – and the typical social media exponent within that – one tends to think of teenagers glued to their smartphones, conversing online with friends or gaming into the early hours. But at the other end of the age spectrum, older generations are becoming increasingly tech-savvy and are using computers for a variety of reasons, chief among them staying in touch with family.
A cursory Google search throws up plenty of anecdotal evidence – a 109-year old war widow on the Isle of Wight celebrating her birthday with Facebook friends; a 99-year old in Oxford adept at using Skype and email when she’s not completing online word searches. Dig further, and these are clearly not isolated cases, but rapidly becoming the norm.
Indeed, internet usage among the older generation has increased at such a rate in the past decade or so that the media has seen fit to give them their own moniker – ‘silver surfers’. There is even a UK-based lifestyle website for the over-50s called Silver Surfer Today which, along with comment pieces aimed at the Victor Meldrews out there (Are council car parking charges excessive?) carries a number of articles that should catch the attention of equity release advisers (Are you selling up for retirement…Alarming pensions shortfall revealed…Generous grandparents dig deep for grandchildren to name a few).
This website is just one example, but everywhere you look is further proof that older generations are far more computer literate then you may think. A recent US study claimed that two-thirds of people aged between 50 and 64 are on Facebook and while the percentage may be lower in the UK, it still serves to highlight the extent to which senior citizens are logging on and going online.
So what does this all mean for equity release advisers? Well, if they didn’t know it already, it proves that by not having an online and social media presence, they could be missing out on new business. It’s probably fair to say that advisers haven’t embraced social media with the same gusto as professionals in other fields and specialist equity release advisers who think they are wasting their time by establishing a presence on Facebook and other sites could be making a dangerous assumption.
In the same way that businesses used to look behind the times if they didn’t have a website, the same can now be said of companies not embracing social media. It’s not just older homeowners that advisers and providers can cater for online either. Many advisers have referral relationships with local financial firms and these partnerships can be nurtured online through the use of shared content and exchanged links. Resources such as LinkedIn forums can also be a useful place to make contacts, share information and discuss topics affecting the equity release market with like-minded individuals.
Like many things, equity release advisers will probably find that they get out of social media and online activity what they put into it and, while they are within their rights to continue to ignore it, they could be missing out on new business if they do so.
Chris Prior is manager, sales and distribution at Bridgewater Equity Release