What happened at Powwow Down South 2016?


By Alan Gow, Argonaut Paraplanning and Dan Atkinson, EQ Investors

A group of sharing and talkative paraplanners gathered in London for the 4th Powwow Down South, kindly hosted by Transact.

Paraplanning standards

The first session focused on paraplanning standards – a hot topic in recent months.

The debate started by questioning the need for a standard. One Powwower commented that the role needs to be better defined if we are to attract people into the industry; that more structure would help paraplanning become a career choice and something to aspire to.

It was suggested that, because of the differences in the role between firms, the structure would need to be in the form of professional standards rather than a job description.

One attendee pointed out that there are a lot of ‘trip hazards’ in providing financial advice and it was agreed that technical knowledge was paramount. It was suggested that, as advisers have to complete CPD to get their SPS, maybe a paraplanner standard could be CPD based. It was felt that exams are expensive and can quickly become out of date and that relevant CPD is arguably more important. However there were questions over how to monitor the relevance of the CPD undertaken.

Another proposal was to have a ‘portfolio approach’ similar to an NVQ, where advisers provide statements to confirm an individual has certain competencies. It was agreed that there was no way to ‘fast track’ experience.

The group felt there should be a single standard that professional bodies could back. Whilst level 4 was considered to be a desirable minimum level, trainees or ‘associates’ of the standard could offer evidence of their learning and any paraplanner designation could reflect this.

software tips and tricks

The second session covered software, with discussions about people’s likes and dislikes, and comparing notes on various systems and discussing their pros and cons.

On research tools – O&MSelectapension, Defaqto and Adviser Asset etc – people found that they didn’t really cover all that they wanted. Data was either not up to date or had flaws that limited the use. They agreed that you need to know the limitations of your tools & what is going on.

As usual, cash flow was something that cropped up. The angle this time was more looking at simple ways of demonstrating capital erosion graphically. Someone was using CashCalc which they shared some thoughts about.

There was lots of love for Standard Life’s tool set and Prudential’s too. Not many – if any – are using alternative online tools – such as Trello – for workflow management.

In fact some people said are finding problems using back office task and workflow management tools. Generally advisers who were less confident of web apps had chosen not to adopt these kinds of tools and traditional tools – such as Outlook diaries – remain popular.

One interesting thing was one large company is using CURO which sounds like a back office that integrates with Outlook. Powwowers had found that people who might otherwise have been more resistant to adopting this tool were happy using the task system and it gave them the MI that they needed. Although it appears to be expensive, it does look quite capable.

A few people have built some calculators and tools in Excel that they use but would really value some training and coaching to improve. There was a feeling that they don’t know the full capability of the software or how to gain the knowledge needed to get the most from it.

I’m afraid I mentioned my old hobby horse: that financial services websites should be as easy to use as Amazon and, thankfully, I’m not alone in that view!

Roboadvice was briefly mentioned but, based on the discussion among Powwowers, there wasn’t a high level of awareness of it yet and, if practices had invested a great deal of attention in it, it wasn’t apparent to paraplanners (in contrast to my own experience at SimplyEQ).

Conversation did broaden out to suitability report templates too. There was some praise for SimplyBiz and threesixty’s approaches, and one Powwower uses PPOL. The general view was that in-house is best but the risk of not remaining fully compliant is a worry. EQ Investors are alone in using ‘Quick Parts’ but some are using hyperlinked documents to ensure consistency.

There is still a view – despite Rory Percival’s repeated comments – that the report needs to have everything in it e.g. ‘you are 78’, ‘recently widowed’ etc. People feel that the reports should be for the client’s benefit but it does sound like many firms continue to be concerned about covering all bases in case of audits. There are mixed views about using an ‘Executive Summary’ use vs telling a ‘gripping story’ throughout the text.

The session also touched upon social media and how it can help with practical issues. There were a few LinkedIn people – though not many – and a few Twitter folk but quite a few had not really considered this – or were unsure if they are allowed to in their firms. Dan gave the Powwow’s Big Tent a plug because quite a few were unaware or had not logged in for ages.

Questions and discussion

As usual the event finished with a questions and discussion session, allowing attendees to ask questions of the whole group. This included comparing working 1-to-1 with advisers to taking a pooled approach; how to make best use of the new tax allowances; and the benefits of building a business case to get advisers to give you the tools – and more – that you want.

At 1pm we’d run out of both time and chocolate – except for the odd Bounty. (Yuk.) We’re looking forward picking up on some of these discussions again at the National Powwow on 15 September 2016.