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All paraplanners are not the same

  • By Jason Stockwell

Damian Davies of The Timebank is in a reflective mood as he considers an effective way for paraplanners to show their credentials and prove their abilities

Everyone looks forward to reading another article about paraplanning, right? Oh, just me then!

I can understand that articles about paraplanning can go on about how the profession is developing, how important paraplanners are and how wonderful the world is with paraplanners in it.

They sometimes read a bit like Gareth Cheesman looking in a mirror saying, ‘You’re a tiger…… RRRAAHRRR!’ With that in mind, I am going to try to write a useful article for anyone who:

  • Works as a paraplanner
  • Employs paraplanners

The reason is that I see the paraplanning role from both of these perspectives.

I get contacted by adviser business owners enquiring about our services. If they employ paraplanners, somewhere in the conversation, they will invariably say, ‘I really like working with my paraplanner, but I do feel that they aren’t doing as well as they could’

At the other end of the process, I get contacted by applicants looking to become Timebank Paraplanners. Somewhere in our conversation will be the line ‘I like my boss, but I just feel they don’t really appreciate what I do in my job’

Communication is key

The reason for this is neither side is communicating well about what they expect. This is exacerbated by over excitable recruitment consultants encouraging paraplanners to move roles for loads more money. I genuinely had a chap contacted by the recruitment consultant who placed him six months and a day after he started with me telling him about new opportunities!

This is because everyone is looking for ‘a paraplanner’, but no-one really knows what a paraplanner is or does. Some have argued for years that a paraplanning standard will fix this, but I am not convinced, because I believe a paraplanner should be whatever their employer wants them to be.

Maybe a highly technical financial planner needs a highly organised paraplanner who is better at keeping a file straight but isn’t necessarily the most technically strong? They can keep them tidy and organised and help with some research and report writing, but don’t need to be the most hardcore technician.

At the same time, very personable, relationship driven advisers may be hugely productive in the work they can generate. They may be better to work with a very well-qualified, highly-experienced paraplanner who acts as a critical friend to them. They can keep the adviser ‘clean’ from a compliance and technical perspective and make sure they don’t miss something really important, which can be easy if you are really busy.

A paraplanner obtains information, analyses information and produces some form of report or documents. As such, both of the roles above are paraplanning.

The problem is that a CV on its own will not really help the advisory firm know the type of paraplanner they are really getting. Most CVs just have experience and qualifications, and these are just not enough to know the real person.

There are lots of ways of reducing the risk of getting the wrong person through the recruitment process, but it is only once the two start working together that they know if they have made a mistake.

A paraplanning passport

So, I suggest that paraplanners start to build themselves a personal record to accompany them through their career. A ‘Paraplanning Passport’ or something like this. This will be separate to the CV and also separate to the T&C scheme within the firm.

A paraplanner’s passport could accompany the CV. At the same time, the paraplanner can be probing the adviser about how the passport can be built on whilst working with the firm.

The idea is that the paraplanner can demonstrate realistic measures about their performance, and the adviser can best match the role to the candidates.

Here are a few ideas about what could be in the passport:

Time recording is vital to demonstrating efficiency. An elegant summary of a working year can help the paraplanner demonstrate their strengths.

Very productive people also tend to be very well organised so this will demonstrate good diary management.

This can be broken down at a high level to the split of time spent on client facing tasks, research tasks and admin tasks. How the remaining time is spent will demonstrate the paraplanners proactivity.

Without time records, the employer can feel they are not getting the most out of a paraplanner as they don’t realise how long some tasks take. By contrast, a paraplanner cannot fully demonstrate their value in terms of productivity. Firms that do not time record tend to be the ones that don’t appreciate each other as well as they should.

Time measures are nothing if they are not cross referenced to quality.

Most businesses have mechanisms of grading work. Summarising this will help a paraplanner demonstrate how good their work is.

If a paraplanner is producing enormous volumes of work but has poor quality might simply mean they are being given the wrong types of tasks where they are. As a paraplanner, you can use these measures to ensure you go to the right place.

CPD helps a paraplanner to demonstrate what they learn and how they learn. As an employer, it is much more useful than a list of qualifications.

A summary of lifetime CPD and the last 12 months CPD will help them demonstrate whether they are a hardcore technician or someone more practical.

Qualifications are often an empty pot if they are not backed up with practical experience and CPD.

Feedback is never personal. It is the only way to develop professionally.

As we all know, people are more inclined to voice feedback if it is negative, as it is a stronger emotion.

If you establish a process whereby every case needs to have feedback, you will start to encourage people to leave both positive and negative feedback.

Recording this and summarising it in a passport will help the paraplanners prove their quality. For the employer, they are not having to guess whether the individual is as good as they say they are.

If you have feedback from clients, that can be even more powerful.

Client meetings
The proportion of a paraplanner’s day spent with clients is an important measure.

Some paraplanners just don’t like speaking with clients and others love it. It is essential you are not in a role where you are being expected to talk to clients when it is something you don’t enjoy. Likewise, a gregarious, relationship-driven paraplanner will need to find themselves in a role that suits those character traits.

A simple, 1 page summary for this paraplanners passport can give a really simple to understand snapshot of what type of paraplanner is behind the CV.

As regular readers will know, I’ve been guilty in the past of the odd Gareth Cheeseman style article. Nonetheless, this idea of the passport is a great chance for paraplanners to really prove their value to prospective employers and show them exactly what their skills and capabilities are.

About Damian Davies

Damian established The Timebank in 2003 after being an adviser and discovering the need for outsourced paraplanning first hand. Since then Damian has directed The Timebank to be the largest paraplanning provider in the UK and is starting to grow the business internationally.

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