A quick search of the legal press highlights concerns among solicitors about the dangers of online Will-writing for consumers. Their observations are often dismissed by online entrants to the Will-writing market as protectionist. Neither side is for budging.
"A battle of wills is a situation that involves people who try to defeat each other by refusing to change their own aims or demands and hoping that their opponents will weaken first.”
Echoes from the battle sound out across the legacy fundraising strategies of the third sector: while most charities eschew the advances of online Will-writers (only offering solicitor-drafted Wills amid concerns of contested Wills and reputational damage), others promote them and the potential for scalable fundraising they offer.
A major introducer
This is not a battle therefore in which charities are impartial bystanders. In fact, the legacy fundraising strategies of the sector will influence how the market develops; impacting charities, Will-writers (of all types) and consumers.
The third sector is a major introducer of Will-writing business and where it directs its supporters to makes a difference to suppliers of Wills. If in doubt, witness the eagerness among new entrants for charities to promote their services and the continued willingness of law firms to incur a loss on free Will schemes.
Charities are also, one may argue, a major influencer on market pricing; free and discounted Will schemes have surely driven down the public’s perception of what a Will costs. With cheaper online alternatives becoming available, that downwards trend will only continue. And that strongly favours those whose business is built on technology, not people.
Although an online provider with a low marginal cost to serve may be able to generate a profit from a simple Will for which the consumer pays little or nothing, the 5,000 law firms that currently write Wills cannot.
Law firms normally need to upsell from a Will to make a profit. It’s an upsell that becomes even more critical as prospective clients go online and volumes of leads drop. (It can’t be too much longer before the profession twigs that the same charities that promote free or discounted Will schemes from solicitors are simultaneously diverting online and telephone Wills in to the arms of their competition.)
Influence over consumer behaviour
And then there’s the sector’s influence over consumer choice and confidence. The problem lawyers have with online Wills is that users often do not know what they do not know, and most online systems don’t tell them. It’s not that the Will is incorrect but, rather, incomplete. For those consumers, a charity endorsement can be short-hand for trustworthy and reliable (for new online Will-writers, the benefits of brand association are therefore as valuable as free lead generation).
Of course, consumers will go online in increasing numbers for Will-writing, just as they do in other areas of their lives: in our pilots we saw the greatest use from baby-boomers and we all know how important they will become. So, charities cannot afford to ignore online Will-writing.
But how best to get involved while meeting the duty they owe to their supporters and, arguably, to the legal profession that has worked to steadily increase the percentage of Wills that include a gift?
Making the most of opportunities
At Bequeathed, we asked ourselves similar questions. How do we make the most of the online Will-writing opportunity, using the capabilities of the content and legal service platform our team developed over more than five years? And how do we create an enticing, viable online proposition for consumers and for our target charity customers when most Wills are still written by lawyers?
Armed with the insight from our 2016/17 pilots, it became clear to us that if we focused on fully meeting the Will-writing needs of all consumers, in one coherent customer journey, then we would also meet the business development needs of law firms and the fundraising needs of charities.
And when we started to work with law firms, to develop our model which provides consumers with the free online Will they want, while ensuring they do consider when expert legal advice will be valuable, we found law firms more than willing to embrace online and to change the game to win the battle of Wills.
We’ve used online to make allies, not enemies, of law firms and, in so doing, better serve the interests of consumers. We think there’s a compelling case for charities’ legacy fundraising strategies to do so too.
Jonathan Brewer is Founder of online Will-writing service Bequeathed, this year’s headline sponsor of the Legacy Strategy Summit, taking place on 14 June. To find out more, visit https://legacystrategysummit.com/.