What I learnt from Powwow South West

By Kelly Guttridge

 

“I’ve only ever worked for one financial services company and was the first person to become ‘paraplanner’. Sometimes it feels a bit like we’ve made it up as we go along, so I’d like to know more about what paraplanners in other companies do and how that compares to my roles and my expectation of the roles.”

 

This statement was a key part of what led me to attend Powwow South West. I’ve spent countless hours meeting new people, talking about what we do, and finding myself stumped when it comes to answering the question ‘so, what is a paraplanner?’ And I’m sure I’m not alone in googling ‘paraplanner’, only to be left more confused after scrolling through the first few pages of results.

Am I meant to be an administrator? Am I more like a non-client facing adviser or financial planner? Do I need qualifications and, if I do, which ones?

Over the last three years, my role has changed and developed. I started out as something that might have been described as an assistant to the advisers, primarily writing reports based on the advice and details provided by the adviser, but doing very little research. With my own growing experience and knowledge, this has developed into interpreting the broad financial plan, along with the client’s circumstances, and filling in the detail myself, researching specific products and coming up with the most suitable solutions in order to complete the recommendation.

Taking on more of the work has meant a need for more people in my role, so there are now two of us. But like me, my colleague has never worked for another financial services company and came to the role through an internal promotion from her position as an administrator. Together, we have spent a lot of time over the last year trying to define what it is we do, but still come up against the same problem; that we don’t really know whether what we are doing is what we really should be doing as paraplanners.

At Powwow South West it was particularly interesting to meet other paraplanners working in a variety of settings. The majority, like me, are employed in-house by a single financial services company, though one was an outsourced paraplanner working for a range of companies.

Something everyone at the Powwow seemed to agree is that it is the paraplanner’s job to take the soft facts and the broad financial requirements agreed between the adviser and the client, and fill in the details. We research the products and investments, and write to the client with the specific recommendation (usually as the adviser).

Of course, in answering one question, it raised a few others. Luckily, I was already in the right place with good company!

Following on from the question of what a paraplanner actually does is the question of what qualifications we need.

Most of the paraplanners I met at the Powwow are level 4 diploma qualified or working towards it. Many have found it useful to achieve the advanced qualifications and a couple are even working towards becoming chartered. Whether this represents the majority of paraplanners is hard to say, and having qualifications isn’t yet an industry requirement. However, it was clear that studying for and taking exams is useful, especially when we’re doing the technical part of the financial planning.

So, if we’re just as qualified as advisers, does that make paraplanning a kind of training ground for future advisers? Well, yes. For some paraplanners the higher salary of the adviser is what they are aiming for. Paraplanning provides a good base of experience and technical knowledge, as well as the opportunity to take exams without the pressure of qualifications being a requirement for the role of paraplanner. And no. Paraplanning and advising require very different skills. Paraplanners are the technical researchers, the interpreters, and the writers. Advisers, on the other hand, are the face of the financial services industry, putting the emphasis on relationship management.

For me, the most important thing I’ve taken away from Powwow South West is the reassurance that what I’m doing really is paraplanning, even if the way we got there is slightly different to other companies.