The first ever Powwow South West was held recently at the Bristol Pavilion. We arrived to a large room with a fantastic view of the cricket ground, and got ourselves settled in with Powwow stickers, colourful pens and plenty of chocolate.
Following a few unfortunate cancellations, we made the decision to merge our tribes and create one super tribe! The number was just right, so that everyone got a chance to speak and the conversation never came close to running dry.
The topics that were agreed upon via Pre-Powwow Survey were Professional Development and Top practical tips to help with day-to-day paraplanning.
Andy’s topic got off to a flying start, discussing where and how people like to get their CPD.
A number of online providers were mentioned, including SkillsServe, Competent Adviser and Technical Connection, for those who would prefer to spend as little time as possible away from the office. These systems also allow compliance officers to push certain modules to staff members. However, they do come with a cost.
As for conferences and seminars, the CISI Paraplanner Conference appeared to be the winner over the PFS Purely Paraplanning Conference, due to sessions being more tailored to paraplanners. Another popular option was the threesixty conferences, which were said to offer very good technical CPD. The Professional Paraplanner Technical Insight Seminar, while good, was said to be a bit too investment-heavy and not focussed enough on paraplanners.
Moving on to exams, we discussed a variety of study techniques. It was well established that people have different ways of studying and need materials to match. Aviva Academy was recommended by all, especially as it’s free. Other revision programs that were recommended included Wizard Learning, Exam Angel and Brand Financial Training. For the advanced exams, John Reynolds at Expert Pensions was held in high regard, offering courses comprised of study notes, videos and workbooks. Although the CII books are considered a bit boring and difficult to get through, the CII study workshop was attended by one of our Powwowers who said it was very good, and absolutely recommended it.
In discussing other examining bodies, it seemed that everyone sticks with the PFS and CISI. Although one attendee had exams with the Pensions Management Institute, they weren’t widely considered appropriate for paraplanners. A couple of websites, Filtered and Coursera, were recommended for online courses in ANYTHING ELSE (outside of financial services) for free or cheap.
Top practical tips to help with day-to-day paraplanning
Next up was Lewys’ topic, which was kicked off with good old suitability reports. Powwowers appear to take a variety of approaches to report writing, with some using software, some using templates, and some even writing each individual report from scratch. ATEB Suitability and Genovo were agreed to be the gold standard in report writing software.
On the topic of report length, everyone agreed with the FCA’s view that reports should be shorter and easier for the client to read, however it’s more difficult in practice. Some Powwowers recommended an ‘executive summary’ at the beginning of the report (1-2 pages long), followed by the full, in-depth report. The executive summary is the reader-friendly bit, and the analytical clients can get into the nitty gritty if they choose to.
When discussing at what point the report is provided to the client, some said that their advisers would give the report prior to implementing a recommendation. This prompted a discussion on what happens should the client choose not to proceed, and therefore doesn’t pay for the work that has already been completed. The solution to this is to charge a fee up front for the research and preparation work that is completed prior to recommendation implementation.
Next was a discussion on working with advisers and how to get the most out of them. Getting information out of an adviser’s brain and into the Fact Find seems to be a problem for paraplanners everywhere! One unorthodox suggestion was for the adviser to dictate their meeting notes. This Powwower said his adviser would record voice notes straight onto his phone, and these would be sent to an outsourced specialist to transcribe into meeting notes. The IFA Life website provides links to typists who offer this service. This was said to work fantastically for that particular adviser, being more efficient for the adviser and providing more comprehensive notes for the paraplanner. Livescribe pens were also discussed briefly as an alternative, although one Powwower expressed a poor experience using one of these, and did not recommend it.
Running with the theme of recording, phone call recording was brought up. This was generally considered to be a good idea by those that have implemented it, for compliance and to help with selective memory loss. This can protect both the client and the firm. Worth exploring if a firm has the time to do so.
Questions & Discussion
We had a wide range of topics on the board for our Q & D session, starting with Defined Benefit Pension Transfers. A debate was had on the value of critical yields. Some Powwowers declared the critical yield to be absolutely worthless, while another said that they still have value simply to measure how good a transfer value is. Other metrics were provided to replace the critical yield, such as the hurdle rate or the age drawdown income will run out. Either way, those who work in this arena agreed that cashflow planning is essential, and a good cashflow model provides far more value to the client than a TVAS Report.
In comparing TVAS Reports, Selectapension appeared to be more popular than O&M. Some Powwowers found O&M more difficult to use, and one Powwower said that the Selectapension report is more client-friendly than O&M.
The next topic of discussion was risk profiling. How do we appropriately explain investment risk to a client, and measure their perception of it? One Powwower gave a horror story of when their adviser invested a large amount of client funds just days before 9/11, and saw their value crash instantly. Risk questionnaires alone are not enough to prepare a client for that situation, and advisers need to be able to go the extra mile in making sure clients truly understand the risks.
There is also a perceived confusion between tolerance for risk and capacity for loss. Capacity for loss is something that can be calculated mathematically on paper, however this does not equate to the client being able to tolerate a drop in their value. It’s vital that the client’s tolerance is fully understood before investing any of their money.
‘Which of our activities do clients value?’ was a question posted on the poll by one of our Powwowers. They had an interesting story about how their firm has removed certain time-consuming services and measured whether clients noticed. They reduced a 30-page review document down to 10 pages, and not a single client batted an eyelid. Others revealed that they had found similar results. Clients generally appreciate the regular contact and knowing that their adviser is looking after them, and may not want to read a tome of fund research reviewing their portfolios.
A discussion was held on whether clients know/understand what the paraplanner does specifically. We received a range of responses, with some saying their clients don’t know the paraplanner exists, and others feeling very prominent in the process, even having a personal relationship with many clients.
Moving on from this we discussed the paraplanning career as a whole, and where it is going. It was generally agreed that paraplanning is constantly becoming more and more prominent. Advice firms are seeing more value in paraplanners, and are more likely to hire them. Salaries also appear to be reflecting this. Outsourced paraplanning is also becoming a popular option, with very few outsourced paraplanning firms being larger than one-man bands, offering plenty of room for growth.
The end came too soon…
Eventually, we unfortunately had to bring the Powwow to a close. We had already run over our allotted time by 30 minutes, and suspected that the venue staff were about to turn the lights out on us. Everyone seemed to be happy with what they had learnt, and there was a lot of interest in running another session in the future. Our Powwowers came from all directions, from Oxford to Cornwall to Wales, so the venue was considered a good central location for the region. Hopefully we’ll see the next Powwow South West soon in the New Year!