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Everything Changes: Tracey Underwood looks at changing roles in financial planning

  • By Jason Stockwell

Tracey Underwood of PACE Solutions reflects on how career opportunities have changed in financial planning and considers what might lie ahead

Back in the nineties when Take That was a five man group sweeping the charts and the then regulator, the PIA, was about to begin the ‘Pension (Transfer) Review’, I started my first job in financial services, employed by a life insurance company working with IFAs. Job roles were limited and I distinctly remember at that time, there were essentially only two job roles within an IFA practice; adviser or administrator.

The advisers fulfilled the roles of business writer, report writer (ok maybe a letter writer, these were the days of reason-why letters), completer of application forms and in summary, an all-round salesperson. The minimum qualification standard for providing advice was the Financial Planning Certificate, broadly equivalent to the current CII Certificate in Financial Services (Level 3).

The administrators did everything else from obtaining quotes (in those days you had to ring the provider), processing new business and sending off letters of authority. In later years, I went on to join one of those IFA practices but was fortunate that they had newly created a paraplanner role which, looking back, was way ahead of its time. The role encompassed cashflow analysis, attending client meetings and working alongside the adviser making planning recommendations. That was a rarity then – and perhaps even now.

Some would say not a lot has changed in twenty years but within financial services recruitment the picture is very different

These Days

So, let’s fast forward twenty years. Take That is still going strong – albeit with three band members. Our current regulator, the FCA is once again reviewing Pension Transfer sales. Some would say not a lot has changed in twenty years but within financial services recruitment the picture is very different. The modern financial advisory practice has established itself into a business with a diversity of roles, with more individuals than ever being professionally qualified and trained in that role.

Such roles are no longer limited to sales or administration. Those people entering this profession in 2019 should feel excited that there is so much more variety available – and skills required – than has previously been the prerequisite within IFA firms.

New roles such as Systems (IT) specialists, Marketing Administrators, Operations, Investment and Practice Managers have all emerged.

Not only have new roles appeared, but the skills required for the more ‘traditional’ roles have also changed substantially. Administrator roles have been replaced with client servicing tasks involving more interaction with clients. ‘Paperwork’ has been reduced due to more automation from back office systems and providers. Adviser roles have changed from the traditional product ‘selling’ skills and report writing to utilisation of soft skills, financial planning strategy and cashflow analysis. The minimum qualification standard has also increased to Diploma (Level 4). Needless to say, these role changes are all positive but they have come with their challenges for individuals and businesses alike.

Financial Planning businesses themselves are having to become more adaptive to efficiencies and higher quality as price and value is brought more into a client’s attention, not least due to MIFID II disclosure requirements. Most firms are transitioning their investment proposition from the cumbersome advisory process over to a Discretionary Management model. With that brings added regulation but the efficiencies created internally by utilising IT and investment specialists and redirecting administrators from paperwork to client interaction can far outweigh the additional regulation and costs.

As your business grows and diversifies its roles, it is important to recruit the right person for the role rather than fit the role to an existing member of the team

How Do We Recruit Talent Into These Diverse Roles?

As you start to build your business brand, attracting the right candidates becomes much easier as they are naturally drawn to your business rather than having to search for them. This can also be boosted when you recruit your first graduate who then becomes a great ambassador for attracting future graduates as well as presenting an opportunity to link up with a good university.

Alternative Recruitment Avenues Include:

  • Apprenticeships
  • University Placement Fairs – using your recent graduate recruit to promote this
  • Specialist recruitment consultants

For Marketing and IT roles, it pays to look outside mainstream financial services and use specialist firms / head hunters to find candidates specific for the role. Remember, if you recruit correctly your business and team will be far more successful as a result.

As your business grows and diversifies its roles, it is important to recruit the right person for the role rather than fit the role to an existing member of the team. From my experience of working with firms, rather than spending time (and money) recruiting, firms have been transitioning existing members of their team into these newly created roles because:

  1. A particular person has been part of the business for a while and they are good at what they currently do
  2. You like them

Using an existing member of your team may sound an ideal solution to your recruitment problem, but beware. Not recruiting the right, experienced person into that role will only cause you problems further down the line. This is unfair not only to the business but also to the individual that you have transitioned into the role. Gino Wickman gives an excellent overview of this issue in his book ‘Traction’.

If you decide to bring your marketing function in-house then make sure you recruit someone with a market degree and/or experience in marketing. They are more likely to succeed in the role and offer greater benefits to the firm than someone else who has a fraction of that knowledge and skill might be able to deliver. Similarly, with firms now developing apps and becoming much more demanding with data extraction from their client management system, individuals with IT and / or advanced maths and excel skills are becoming more of the norm.

So, What Might The Next Twnety Years Look Like?

The debate about ‘Robo Advice’ goes on and on. Undoubtedly, the continuing development of technology will have a large impact on some of the roles currently available. There will be a continuing demand for value over cost and so deriving more value will naturally drive down costs internally as businesses look for more efficiencies.

There will be a continuation of less traditional client services / administration roles. A large amount of the current ‘double key entry’ on back office and wrap provider is now input directly from the client directly into the back office and automated onto the platform. Paraplanning, in the traditional sense of report writing and cashflow inputting services, will also become automated. These roles, if they haven’t already, will transition to become more client-facing.


Our profession is built on trust. Undoubtedly there will still be a requirement for clients to have – and need – human contact. Advisers and planners will need to develop deeper skills in communication and emotional intelligence to help their clients clarify their life goals. This would run in parallel with their team working alongside them, bringing specific skills in their specialist area, whether that is investment management or technology.

Those roles that clients see as having value to them will be in demand whereas non value-driven services, such as data entry, fund switching will all become automated. This should see an increase in demand for internally or externally driven Discretionary Management Services.

This can therefore, present a challenge to business where skill sets need to change or be replaced. Advisers and support teams are already increasing their technical expertise and adopting a variety of qualifications from Chartered Financial Planner and/or Certified Financial Planner, Chartered Financial Analyst, ILM Leadership and Marketing Diplomas. Change is inevitable. However, there are two things that we can be sure of in the next twenty years: Never forget that Take That will still be around in some form or another (maybe just as one band member). Also, that the Regulator will still be reviewing the impact of defined pension transfers.

About Tracey Underwood

Tracey is the owner and founder of PACE Solutions. The business provides support for financial planning businesses by focusing on operational practices including; recruitment, compliance, processes, client proposition and business strategy. This is achieved not only through a consultancy process but by hands on implementation to ensure that firms achieve effective results that would otherwise not be achieved through consultation only.

Tracey is a Certified Financial Planner and Chartered Wealth Manager. She has held several senior management positions within financial planning firms, most recently as Operations and Managing Director at DB Wood.

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