When Cathi Harrison, managing director of outsourced paraplanning company Para-Sols, was elected to the board of the Personal Finance Society in mid 2014 it was to help the professional body to better engage with what was recognised as an increasingly important section of the society’s membership.
PFS members who put their job description as paraplanner number around 3,000, the second largest group within the membership.
One of the first tasks for Cathi was to set up a Paraplanner Practitioner Panel, populated by volunteer, practicing paraplanners. The Panel was established in September 2014 and there are now nine paraplanners involved.
“The panel is the main channel for the Personal Finance Society to learn what paraplanner members want and need and for direct feedback on planned events and support initiatives,” Cathi says.
“The panel is voluntary, it meets quarterly and those involved do things on their own time. That commitment comes from a genuine passion for being a paraplanner and giving to the paraplanning community,” she adds. “It’s one of the things I’ve always liked about being a paraplanner, it’s such a friendly, supportive community of people.”
First step: Events
The first and most obvious task for Cathi and the panel when formed, was to help shape some PFS paraplanner events and get them on the map.
The Purely Paraplanning conferences, which took place in October 2015, immediately showed that the Society was listening to paraplanners when they said they wanted events dedicated to their roles and not reconstituted adviser events.
The success of those first conferences has resulted in the Society agreeing to double the number in 2016, Cathi says. “We started off with the three Purely Paraplanning events in 2015 and we are doubling the number of events this year – there are three in April, taking place in London, Bournemouth and Haydock Park, and a further three are being planned for September.”
At its quarterly meeting in December 2015, the Panel came up with “a number of ideas for what should be included in the events” Cathi says, “and we went through them and gave feedback on what we thought would work best.”
2016 initiative: Attracting new blood
The major initiative for the Panel this year is a campaign to raise awareness of financial services as a career option, and paraplanning in particular, primarily among schools and colleges.
“We’re creating a small brochure to help promote paraplanning, which will link into a website,” Cathi explains. “People coming out of college and university now are very much online focused, so we’re developing the brochure to be handed out at careers and university graduate fairs, and that will guide them to a website that we’re going to build this year. The website will talk about financial services and paraplanning and why you should consider it as a career, including what options are available and how you would get into it – and also the fun side of the job.”
Alongside that, Cathi says the Panel is trying to ascertain what opportunities exist within the advisory market for people coming in to paraplanning, in terms of trainee or graduate schemes and so on.
“We will be looking to get together a database of any firms that are willing to bring on trainees. It will map out what skills, attributes and strengths, the paraplanning role typically needs and direct them to an online resource where they will get to see testimonials from paraplanners, the framework of qualifications available, and career paths, such as going the specialist route, or setting up a paraplanning business or even becoming a financial adviser.
“So the brochure will be light touch, showing that paraplanning exists and piquing their interest, and the website will give them a lot more information about paraplanning, what it is and what career paths there are in the industry.
“We’ll also point them to how they can engage on Twitter and LinkedIn so they can see how the paraplanning community interacts and how people help each other.
“It’s about getting it out there and letting people know what’s available that they might be interested in.”
Given time and resources the panel can’t tackle everything it wants to and by necessity has to pick and choose its projects.
“When we set up the panel we all put in ideas about what we’d like to achieve. We came up with about 20 items where we felt we could make an impact. We then had to prioritise them.
“Getting the events up and running and the promotional brochure sorted, were among those we wanted to tackle to start with and once they are fully under way we’ll sit down and look at the list and see where next we can get things done,” Cathi says.
This is an article that originally appeared in Professional Paraplanner magazine, which can be found here: Professional Paraplanner Article