We spoke to Ben Charrington, Head of Estates and Probate at Octopus Investments, about how his team helps families and financial advisers help with planning for future generations.
How long have you been with Octopus?
I started at Octopus Investments just under three and a half years ago. I first joined the Client Relations team, talking to Octopus customers – face-to-face and on the phone – about their investments. I answered their questions and listened to what they liked (and sometimes didn’t like) about how we did things.
The nature of our business means some investors will pass away holding their investments. As a result, financial advisers, solicitors – and occasionally family members – get in touch for information on what to do next.
Our Client Relations team was doing a great job dealing with these questions. But over time, I saw that in a lot of cases, financial advisers were not being involved when their clients died. As a result, the families of these clients were not considering all of their options to determine what the best outcome for them would be.
I saw an opportunity to make things better, with a team dedicated to handling estate and probate questions and proactively helping people through this difficult time.
What does the Estates and Probate team do?
We try and make the process as easy and as straightforward as possible. What we do is work with financial advisers and the executors of the deceased’s estate to make sure that beneficiaries are seeking the relevant financial advice.
But I would say our main focus is to help people through a tricky time. We know that the loss of a loved one is very difficult for family members, so we try to make the process as simple as possible. My team has great empathy for people going through an incredibly difficult time.
If someone is unsure why their parent held a particular investment, I want them to ring up and ask Huw, Charlie or Jasmine in the Estates and Probate team. Sometimes it’s important to tell people what to expect. Probate often takes a long time and you can’t sort out someone’s estate overnight. It often takes time and patience to see that process through.
Why do you think the service you provide is so important?
Research suggests that in the next 30 years, around £5.5 trillion will pass between generations in the UK. That’s an enormous amount of money – and yet we know that parents and children tend to have only very superficial conversations about inheritance.
Octopus Group CEO Simon Rogerson recently wrote a blog that explored the reasons why people rarely talk about money with their loved ones. We’ve had instances where no-one has come forward to claim an investment, because they didn’t know it existed.
Just last year, we had someone contact us because they’d discovered in their late father’s possessions some information about an investment he held with us. This person didn’t know what the service was, or why their father had held it. Since they didn’t know, they didn’t claim the inheritance tax relief they were entitled to. Which meant they paid tens of thousands in tax unnecessarily.
How do you make sure this doesn’t happen?
Lots of financial providers have bereavement or estate planning services. But in all honesty, the financial industry doesn’t do much beyond what’s legally required. Right now, lots of people look to their solicitors for financial advice – which means they can incur tax and lose out on benefits.
What makes my team different is the proactive approach we get to take with financial advisers and their clients. With financial advisers, and solicitors, we urge them to speak to their clients to make sure the value of investments is maintained and handled correctly. With families, we help them understand the investments they now hold – and encourage them to seek out financial advice.
And we try to make things as simple as possible. Some product providers use financial jargon that may make them sound clever, but for me the real skill lies in explaining the complex in layman’s terms. We tell people why an investment product was taken out, what it’s trying to achieve, and what owning this investment product could mean for beneficiaries.
It’s a hard thing to do, so we constantly look for ways to refine and clarify how we communicate.
What are you working on at the moment?
We’re continuing to raise awareness of the importance of intergenerational planning. We want more financial advisers to see us as a really valuable resource to help their clients.
We had a pretty strong feeling about the common problems with intergenerational estate planning, but the independent survey we carried out really helped validate our hunches.
It’s given us more confidence to go out and talk about the importance of speaking with customers and their families. This year I’ve done a number of radio interviews, and contributed to several newspaper articles.
And we’re looking to grow our team. I started out in 2017 as just one person on the phone. Now that financial advisers are making us a standard part of their service, we’re looking to scale up to help.
What do you love about working at Octopus?
I love that here, the customer is ultimately the boss. If it’s the right thing for our investors, we do it. Lots of organisations talk about that – but we actually live it. I think that’s really important: it gives me a sense of purpose when I come to work.
And I love the entrepreneurial spirit that’s found across the entire Octopus Group. I spotted a problem, and was given the autonomy and support to fix it. There aren’t many financial services firms who’d have given me that chance. Two years later, it’s incredibly satisfying to see where that initial problem-solving idea has led.
What do you do outside of Octopus?
Well, six weeks ago my wife had a baby boy, so right now, I’m very much on nappy changing duty.
I’m also a really big sports fan. I support Arsenal and Leicester Tigers, but my first love is horse racing. Before I joined Octopus, I worked at Goodwood racecourse in West Sussex as an Operations Manager, which meant I looked after everything from start to finish.
For more information on estate planning, visit the Octopus Investments website.