Increasingly, paraplanning is being seen by large numbers of professionals across the UK as a career choice in its own right. Given its growing importance within the financial planning profession, we’re delighted to bring you the final article in our three-part series where we talk to paraplanners from the PFS Paraplanner Panel about what paraplanning means to them and why they have chosen this dynamic and challenging career path. This month our thanks go to panel members Caroline Stuart and Robert Harper who are in the spotlight.
1. Caroline Stuart – Sparrow Paraplanning
When I was a little girl, I’m fairly certain I never said ‘when I grow up, I want to be a paraplanner’. I wasn’t one of those people who had a calling and knew exactly what they wanted to do from an early age. I quite liked chemistry and modern languages but they aren’t really two things you can easily combine, so I chose my GCSEs and A-Levels based on the things I enjoyed rather than to progress down a specific career path.
An accidental journey
Like many other people in this profession, I sort of fell into financial services rather than actively choosing it as a profession. I did an HND in Business Studies and thought that marketing was the career for me. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a great call for it where I lived in Carlisle, so I headed for the bright lights and marketing mecca which I was sure that Manchester would be. I knew I’d soon be on my way to marketing glory.
Things obviously didn’t quite turn out as I had planned. Whilst working shifts in a well-known coffee outlet at Manchester Airport, I saw a job advert for something or other at a company called Royal London. The hours were 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday and they had a duck pond, so honestly, who really cared what the job was!
Fast forward nineteen years, and here I am – a paraplanner. I moved from Royal London to become an administrator at an IFA practice, then a trainee paraplanner , moving on to more senior roles as I passed professional exams and got more experienced.
The paraplanner difference
In the previous articles of this series, my fellow paraplanner Panel members have talked about what paraplanning is and what it means to them. It’s so interesting to see how very different the role is to different people. For me, I love being able to help people sort out their financial lives and security, naturally, but I can honestly say that a large part of why I do what I do is down to the people not just in paraplanning but in the wider financial planning profession too.
A new direction
In August this year, having worked as an in-house paraplanner for many years, I took the huge step of giving up the safety and security of an employed role to go it alone as an outsource paraplanner. I’m only a few weeks in as I write this, but absolutely loving it. It’s quite scary in some ways. It feels like you’re not starting just one job but multiple new jobs as you learn about each of your new clients’ requirements and preferences.
But going back to my previous point, I never would have even entertained the idea of starting out on my own without the encouragement, support and counsel of my paraplanning and financial planning pals. Granted, I don’t have a lot of other professions to compare it to, other than Barista, bar staff and babysitter, but I find ours to be a really unselfish, supportive profession where the sharing of learning and best practice are widely encouraged.
Paraplanning is made up of people who have had so many different routes to the role. For some it is a deliberate and specific career choice, for others it’s a natural progression from a different part of financial services. For the odd few, it’s been a way of getting out of making cappuccinos at 4am on a cold and dreary Manchester morning. It’s what makes it a rich and diverse community with lots of differing views and opinions, all working to ensure the best outcomes for all our clients. I believe that paraplanning is now an integral part of the financial planning process and, along with everyone on the PFS Paraplanner Panel, I am really pleased to sing the praises and to be able to help to develop this fantastic profession for even greater impact and success in future.
2. Robert Harper – Client Service Manager at Four Seasons Financial Planning (client-facing paraplanner role)
I first heard the term ‘paraplanner’ when working within a private bank way back in 2008. It was two years after I had graduated from university.
So clueless was I about the term ‘paraplanner’ back then, that when I was introduced to the first paraplanner I met on the financial planning team (sat nearby), I remember thinking “are they telling me that this chap plans paragliding flight paths in his spare time?” Safe to say therefore, this career definitely chose me!
When I relocated from Bristol to London nine years ago to be closer to someone (now my wife), I saw the relocate as a good opportunity to set a new career path (not a flight path) towards being a paraplanner. It was a role which I saw as being more interesting than that of a private banker. Starting off, I worked as an administrator at a couple of firms before moving again into various paraplanner roles. I have now been a paraplanner since 2012 and I really enjoy it.
The paraplanner difference
Put simply, a paraplanner frees up time for a relationship manager to do more of what they are best at -which is all about building relationships and trust with clients. This is done by taking the complex and time-consuming tasks away from relationship managers so that they can focus on helping clients get the peace of mind from knowing that they have a plan in place and are on track to achieve their goals in life.
Once in the hands of paraplanners, these allocated tasks can be done more efficiently because we paraplanners are able to specialise in them. By freeing up more time, relationship managers are able to work with more clients, spending more time with them and building better quality relationships. It also means that clients can be happier too as they are getting a greatly expanded level of service from the financial planning business.
I have noticed one rather important trend which is that relationship managers who may have called themselves financial advisers are now gradually shapeshifting into a role more akin to financial planning life coaches, particularly since pension freedoms were introduced in 2015. This makes paraplanning even more valuable.
For example, as a paraplanner, I have the time to build a financial plan backed up with a cash flow model for every client. This is critical to this new shape of service which advisers are taking on. An adviser working on their own may not have that time to do that.
Going back to me and and my role, personally I like working as a paraplanner because I like working with numbers. I have very analytical mind and absolutely love researching things. I like detail! It is great that the role is varied so I don’t get bored. Also it is great that it is becoming even more interesting and rewarding, due to the way our profession is changing and moving away from the transactional type advice of the past, towards a client-centred, values-based financial planning model.
Working with a planner and a client is like having a blank canvass and not knowing what the picture will be in the end. No two clients’ situations are ever exactly the same. They rarely have the same objectives and when they do, clients are very likely to rate those objectives with different levels of prioritisation. The strategy and recommendation each time (the final picture) is different every time. When two objectives conflict with each other, it is enjoyable to make comprises in the strategy with the team and to work out an effective solution.
I firmly believe that by having a paraplanner included in the team, a financial planning firm can make even more of a difference to those people’s lives who they are fortunate enough to call clients!