Paraplanning – a career to be proud of and opportunities in abundance!

We are in one of the most exciting times to be involved in financial planning.  Taking pensions as an example, we have unheard of flexibilities and enormous financial planning opportunities.  The risk of running out of money means that we are seeing a greater focus on lifelong financial planning – particularly using cash flow modelling.   New technology and ways of thinking are propagating through the financial planning world and this is hugely exciting!

As Paraplanners we have a unique position whereby our job is to be the hub in our businesses.  The reports we write and the advice we construct reach into a wide range of areas in our financial planning firms.  Our reports are communication tools for advisers, implementation guidance for administrators, and compliance checks to protect the business.  What we do has a reaching impact and forms a vital part of the jigsaw.  Paraplanning is already seen as hugely important to many businesses and with initiatives such as The ParaHub and the Paraplanner PowWows this will only increase.  Paraplanning is no longer (if it ever was) just a stepping stone into the role of adviser – it is a profession in its own right!

In this brief article I want to inspire and encourage you to stretch yourselves.  Not only should we be aspiring to be the best Paraplanners that we can (for the sake of our clients), we should be thinking about how we develop ourselves.  There is no single career pathway and many Paraplanners will find themselves wearing more than one hat!

Entering the profession

My route to Paraplanning came as a result of connections when I worked for a certain investment platform, which has recently changed name, after university.  My degree in Music Technology was not really relevant to financial services, but it did teach me to think outside of the box (a useful skill for a Paraplanner)!  I started working as an administrator and through that was supported in my studies through the Certificate in Financial Planning.  This experience taught me about how products work from a practical point of view.  I was then nurtured into the role of Paraplanner and here I am!  Our firm describes us as Technical Consultants because we provide a great deal of technical support to our team of advisers at EQ Investors.  I have developed through exams and by our firm giving me more responsibilities.  I now write financial planning articles for our website, provide updates on useful developments/opportunities to our advisers, help run our team of Technical Consultants, and have some involvement in the direction we are travelling in as a firm.  A real highlight for me has been winning the IFP Paraplanner of the Year Award 2014.

From the conversations I have had, this is a fairly normal route into paraplanning.  However this is by no means the only way in.  There are degrees you can study, apprenticeships you can apply for, and some firms are willing to take a risk on the ‘right’ person training them up into the role from scratch.  These routes will provide you with the knowledge that you need to undertake the technical side of the role.  At the same time it is vital to get experience in the practical side.  Paraplanners need to be able to communicate concepts and advice clearly, relevantly, and compliantly.  This element takes practice and needs peer input.  Make sure that you get a good balance of both!

Developing and progressing

Before I upset everyone in the profession let me be clear that I think that being a Paraplanner is a Career in itself.  We have several people in our team who feel this way and it is really important that we have people who want to be Career Paraplanners.  These people ensure that the standards that we believe in as a profession are passed on and a bedrock of knowledge/experience is maintained.  Career Paraplanners should be passionately driving for greater understanding, better application and above all else being advocates to ensure that our clients get the right advice every time.  In practical terms I think this means pushing yourself with every word you write, working towards the highest levels of qualification (Chartered, Certified and beyond!) and being a catalyst for the company you work for.  You should be striving for excellence and encouraging those around you to be the best they can.

The great thing about paraplanning is that the knowledge/experience you will gather will see you learn about most of the workings of a financial planning company.  If you are striving for excellence you will gain the trust and respect of your peers and management.  This provides opportunities to develop your role in a wide range of (often unexpected) directions.  To give you a flavour of what could be possible I have given some examples from our team at EQ Investors of how people have expanded their roles into new areas outside the traditional Paraplanner role.

  • Moving into the adviser role.  One of our team has had a passion for dealing directly with clients for a number of years.  She has obtained her Diploma in Regulated Financial Planning and is now CF30.  This means responsibilities, targets and even greater accountability.  Her experience as a Paraplanner has equipped her well for this role.  Initially she is working with our group business work and has shown initiative to drive this part of the proposition including Auto-Enrolment.  This is a tough role, but she is rising to the challenge admirably.  For people looking to do this they need the support of their company, excellent mentoring, and drive to make it happen – nothing will be handed to you on a plate!
  • Deeper involvement in the running of the business.  Starting as a Paraplanner a number of years ago, our Technical Director now manages our team, but is also heavily involved in the strategic direction of the business.  This includes inputting in conversations about proposition, pricing, people etc.  She is involved in a wide range of projects to improve ourselves as a business.  This is a role she has worked hard to earn and involves a lot of work, but the rewards are great.
  • Leading a team.  As a result of the developments at EQ Investors I now have some responsibilities for leading the team.  In practical terms this means being a point of contact for advisers, managing workloads, and ensuring that we remain focused as a team.  This means that I get to use some of my more obscure pensions knowledge to help clients achieve their financial planning objectives; together with our other Senior Technical Consultant we also act as a sounding board within the team.  I do of course have my own workload as well as this, so managing the balance is crucial.  Communication is key and it is important to leave the ‘stress’ at the door of the office – don’t take your worries home to your wife is a lesson I have learnt!
  • Working on the regulatory aspects of our business.  There is a huge burden on the back of compliance officers and rarely enough hours in the day to do everything.  Paraplanners are well placed to understand many of the regulatory issues that need dealing with and can help.  We recently delegated the project of reviewing our Training & Competency processes to a Senior Technical Consultant.  She was able to provide focus and took ownership of the project.  As a respected and key individual in the company she continues to expand her role within Compliance as well as being one of our most valuable Paraplanners.
  • Internal training.  The key to avoiding mistakes is to have understanding.  Our advisers have lots of opportunity to achieve their CPD requirements and develop themselves.  However those who are implementing advice (our administrators) also need to have some knowledge to ensure that they are able to do so correctly.  Members of different teams in our company are now delivering brief seminars on a monthly basis at the administration team meeting; this is something that they have requested.  At a wider level we identified that people were not making the most of the tools available to them in Excel; in response I designed and ran a well-attended training session for the company which has followed on to focused one-to-one training.  This can be a big commitment and does need your investment in time outside of your role, but it is rewarding to see people learn.
  • Become a specialist.  There are areas of financial planning which need a real focus to understand properly, or demand a significant investment in time for research.  We have had team members specialise in Tax Efficient Investments (EIS/SEIS/VCT etc), or Long Term Care Planning.  They have seen business opportunities that have perhaps not been explored as well as they could or areas in which they can add real value.  If you aspire to this you will need to feast on the information available, gain relevant qualifications, and prove to the business that this is worth investing in.

These are just a few of the ways in which you could, with the support of your company, develop into.  Exploring them could expand your current role or even lead you into a completely new one!  By demonstrating your commitment, passion and hunger to grow you may well surprise both yourself and the people you work with.

Be the best that you can be with passion!

This article first appeared on The ParaHub in February 2015.

This content is intended for Paraplanners and does not constitute Financial Advice. If you require Financial Advice please contact a Financial Advice company such as my employer EQ Investors.


About Dan Atkinson

A Paraplanner at EQ Investors since August 2010, Dan’s Music Technology degree helps him approach Financial Planning problems creatively. IFP Paraplanner of the Year 2014 and member of the PFS Paraplanner Practitioner Panel, Dan is working towards Chartered status and recently became a CISI Accredited Paraplanner. Dan is also involved in youth work at his local Church in Hatfield.

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