The Equity Release Council has revealed that its membership has increased by 97% in the last two years, with the total number of firms increasing from 219 to 431.
2019 saw a 35% annual increase in Council membership among adviser firms from 246 to 332, while the number of solicitor firms rose by 46% from 41 to 60.
More than 100 companies have now become Council members in each of the last two years. 2019 brought a record 146 new joiners, including Knight Frank Finance, Openwork and StepChange Financial Solutions.
The Council also has seen a 77% rise in individual member registrations from 673 in December 2017 to 1,193 today. Its annual member census for 2019 revealed 84% feel that membership is essential for their business.
The inaugural Equity Release Summit on 12 March will provide an opportunity for Council members and the wider sector to gather and discuss key developments and trends within the industry.
The membership milestone also follows the biggest evolution of the Council’s Standards since it took on a broader remit in 2012 to represent all categories of firms covering the full customer journey.
Effective from 1 January, the update introduces a principles and outcome-based approach alongside the existing rules to meet consumers’ changing needs in later life. It was informed by a member consultation along with external input from the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), HM Treasury and the Money and Pensions Service (MaPS).
Council standards build on statutory regulation to ensure consumers receive three levels of protection: regulated financial advice, independent face-to-face legal advice and clear product safeguards.
The Council is also working with awarding bodies to evolve industry qualifications and will launch a new competency framework this year for financial and legal advisers and other supporting roles.
The aim is to help meet future demand from older consumers for advice on accessing property wealth via equity release and other products as part of the wider later life financial planning market.
David Burrowes, chairman of the Equity Release Council, commented: “The option of accessing property wealth increasingly registers on people’s radar when planning for later life. The Council’s growing membership means more people can access the highest level of consumer protection for any property-based loan when exploring whether equity release or alternative products can help to meet their needs.
“The UK’s ageing population faces longer life expectancies, intergenerational pressures and more individual responsibility to make financial provisions. The challenges of a 21st century retirement mean that, while unlocking property wealth is not suitable for every circumstance, it should be on every homeowner’s checklist to consider.
“There is more work to be done in the year ahead to build on recent product innovation and maintain standards of consumer protection. The Council will continue to work with policymakers, regulators and industry to promote better understanding of today’s later life lending products and the social benefits they bring.”