Paraplanning in practice

magnifying glass paper and pen look into data

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 a new series of articles 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

  1. Tom O’Hara APFS, Senior Paraplanner, CF30 Chartered Financial Planner, Warwick Financial Solutions Limited

IFAM: Did you choose paraplanning as a career or did it choose you?

TO’H: I was originally drawn to Paraplanning (or being a Technical Manager as it was called back in the day) by the appeal of only having to work from 9am to 5pm. Formerly, I was working as a direct salesforce adviser, which meant working evenings and missing my children growing up. I have now worked for the same firm for the last 18 years, which gives me the privilege of seeing so many of our clients’ financial plans coming to fruition.

IFAM: What are the best bits about being a paraplanner?

TO’H Perhaps the best way to explain this is for me to share some examples. It’s all about the outcomes that we achieve for our clients.  One that springs to mind was the time when one of our couples had their first gap year – at the age of 61. They travelled the world, a goal which was accomplished on the back of a decade of our planning. Another instance was when another couple bought a motorhome with £100,000 accessing the profits we created for them having following our investment advice. There are so many stories like this which gives one a huge sense of worth and job satisfaction from being able to help make these things happen. This especially resonates when clients are at their most vulnerable, perhaps when a family member has died. Of course, it is part of the planning process that we also plan for catastrophes. When the inevitable sadly happens, it is our financial plan that carries the surviving client to a better financial future. That’s rewarding too, but in a different way.

IFAM: What does a typical working day look like for you?

TO’H: On a day to day basis, I am generally supplied with a file of hard and soft facts after an adviser has completed a meeting with a client, which I did not attend. My responsibility is to use all this data and information to build the financial plan to meet the client’s goals and objectives. The analysis, the working out and the problem solving is my favourite part of the job. It is not dis-similar to a Sudoku problem, where you know the rules of the game, but you will not see the final solution until you have worked the problem through.

Of course, I am totally dependent on the adviser asking great questions when they are with the client/s so I have all the information I need. I believe that the value in my work is to supply great answers  and in a language and format which is easy for the client to understand. To achieve this, I play with a lot of technology. At Warwick Financial Solutions we have access to the full suite of Microsoft 365 Apps plus a dozen other software products purchased by the business to enable us to efficiently review the client’s circumstances. I would describe myself as the sort of person who has read more manuals than novels.

To prepare for the next decade, I am now learning to code (very slowly). I think it is extremely important that we continue to adapt our knowledge and skills to make sure we have the tools to support our business owners to constantly prove our value. In this past decade, paraplanners have found their voice. I am confident that paraplanners will be at the heart of resolving the new challenges we will face as a profession in the years to come and in continuing to deliver the standard of financial planning service which clients have come to expect and to value so highly.

  1. Becca Tuck – Technical and Quality Manager at Magenta Financial Planning

IFAM: How and why did you decide to become a paraplanner?

BT: Like many people, I began my career in paraplanning entirely by accident. I had my first taste of financial services at the age of just 16 during my work experience. I then returned to spend most summers throughout 6th Form and University working on reception at the financial planning firm or helping out with admin, but not really thinking that a career in finance was for me. After all, I was studying Marine Biology and Oceanography and had dreams of getting myself a seat in the deep sea submarine, Alvin, to discover everything there was to know about hydrothermal vent crabs!

Sadly, jaunts to the deep sea are generally reserved for the most super of scientists (or the Director, James Cameron…) so, after University, I decided it was time to join the “real world” and asked for a reference from my previous employer. Instead, it was suggested that I might like to try my hand at paraplanning.  Six years later and I haven’t looked back!

IFAM: What does paraplanning mean to you? Which elements do you particularly enjoy?

BT: Despite not setting out to become a paraplanner, I quickly realised that the role was perfect for me. I’m a natural analyst, a perfectionist, and I love problem solving. Growing up, I was the kid that took every IQ test going. Not (just) to prove that I was smarter than my parents, but because I really enjoyed challenging myself – using facts and logic to find patterns in the seemingly random.

I feel that paraplanning is a little like that, with my enjoyment of the role increasing as my technical knowledge grew. Although there a large overlap in the knowledge and skills required by good paraplanners and financial planners, the unique skills of the financial planner usually lie in the “bigger picture” planning, whereas I thrive on the detail.

To use the old “client journey” analogy, once the planner has established where the client is and where they want to get to in life, I can then act like a human Google Maps – suggesting some useful short cuts, some potential road works to be avoided, or that it might just be better for the client to leave the car behind altogether and get the train!

There are so many facets to the role of paraplanning and I genuinely enjoy all of them. However, for me, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of using your know-how to do something a little bit clever and opening up a whole range of solutions that didn’t seem possible at a first glance.

Paraplanning and the PFS

Insight from Lee Travis – Partnerships and Member Engagement Director at the Personal Finance Society

As the Partnerships and Member Engagement Director at the Personal Finance Society, I helped support the new PFS Paraplanner Panel to reform in 2017 and develop its role and impact. We felt it was really important that we supported the growing paraplanning community and so we needed representation to help shape our proposition to ensure that what we offered was of value. It was important that we had paraplanners helping us to shape that. We already have a Financial Planning Panel in place so it was the right thing to set this up alongside it. I’m a big believer that you should deliver what your members want, so if we are going to deliver an offering to a particular group then we needed representation from it.

Luckily for us, we set up a group of enthusiastic and passionate paraplanners who really want to ensure that they are heard and that they can make a difference to the development of the paraplanning profession. At our last AGM of the Personal Finance Society, I’m delighted to say that the wonderful Caroline Stuart was elected as Paraplanner Board member, which means that there is influence from this important community right at the top of the PFS. Long may it last!

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