What is it?

The FCA’s Investment pathways came into force this month, meaning that pension providers are now required to offer ‘investment pathways’ to non-advised customers entering drawdown. This applies to customers moving all or just part of their funds into drawdown. An investment pathway does not need to be offered where an annuity or fixed-term product (with no capital at risk) is being used.

There is a clearly highlighted issue of clients going into drawdown on their own and, in most scenarios, staying in cash regardless of what their ‘pathway’ is. The provision of pathways for clients who cannot or would rather not access advice is a useful option for this unserved segment.

For customers with pensions held with applicable providers, they will be prompted to select one of the following options when using Drawdown:

  1. I have no plans to touch my money in the next 5 years.
  2. I plan to use my money to set up a guaranteed income (annuity) within the next 5 years.
  3. I plan to start taking my money as a long-term income within the next 5 years.
  4. I plan to take out all my money within the next 5 years.

These options will all be linked to a provider’s default investment option as a way of ensuring the client is investing, on their own accord of course, in a way that is at least broadly in line with their aims and timeframe.

The provider must also offer them the option to remain invested in their current investments if this is available, alongside the option to choose their own investments.

A comparison tool is being released by the FCA which will allow clients who choose to enter drawdown without advice to compare products and investment pathways.

What does this mean for advisers?

Before an adviser recommends a product and investment strategy, they will need to give extra consideration where the following apply:

  • The current provider offers drawdown.
  • The current provider has created and maintains a set of investment pathways.

Here, advisers should at least be outlining to a client that a non-advised route is possible by using the existing provider and one of the investment pathways made available.

What could this look like?

While there is more to it, you could broadly link one of the investment pathways to a client’s needs and consider this pathway as an option. You would then highlight the cost of this pathway and how this compares to your recommendation (not too dissimilar to how, in accumulation, you would compare the option of a stakeholder).

For those who are willing and/or able to take advice, there are likely to be a range of factors that discount the use of pathway approach.

This might be lack of flexibility (if the provider offers a limited drawdown option or restrictions on frequency/type of withdrawals).

There may also be limitations in using the pathway if circumstances will change in the coming years. This can be the case where a phased retirement path is desired but dependent on ability to continue work.

The ability to use ‘bucketing’ may also be impractical using the pathway and if this is part of your retirement proposition, this could make the use of the default provider option unsuitable.

As this is aimed at non-advised clients, this is an opportunity to detail to your clients the value of receiving advice.

What’s our thoughts?

Ultimately risk is a subjective interpretation, those non-advised clients that enter a risk profile from the provider are investing in the providers interpretation of risk, and therefore could be taking more/less risk than they are comfortable with.

Providers are also unable to interpret risk in line with the client’s capacity for loss and knowledge and experience, and therefore the client could potentially be taking an appropriate level of risk, but not one that they can afford should the markets drop.

What should you do?

Where applicable, the advice and suitability report should:

  • Outline the Investment Pathway option
  • Outline the most likely option that would match the client circumstances
  • Consider how the charges compare to the proposed solution
  • Outline why the advice is to use something different to this investment pathway option.

Grant Callaghan and Alanis Daniel

Well, unlike so many other industries, COVID certainly didn’t slow us down for very long. I think it’s safe to say that we’re back to business as usual, with the usual being busy!

With this in mind, in recent months we’ve turned our focus to efficiencies. Making sure we can grab each hour of the day with both hands and get the most out of every one of them.

Being a team of paraplanners, the focus of the day will, and always has been writing reports. So, of course we decided to do what all writers have done at one stage in their career and rip that sucker up and start again. Seriously, we dissected every paragraph of our current Word reports and asked ourselves “is that really needed?” and “is it adding any value to the client?”.

I’ll be honest, one time around we thought our reports were the bee’s knees and couldn’t get any better (ok maybe we were being a little biased) but with fresh eyes and a thirst for change we really went to town!

Our first and main aim was to produce a report at the end which is both vibrant and easily digestible for the client. The second aim was to improve efficiencies across the team. Making report writing quicker, easier and more enjoyable.

The core goal of any report writing journey we’ve gone on at Para-Sols has always been to make it the best it can be for the end client. Easily digestible, less jargon and engaging are what we strive to achieve. We started by changing the look and feel for the report, all the while having in the back of our mind the best way to make this work for the Paraplanners. We’ve introduced dynamic colours, icons and improved the layout so it’s clear to the client and not just 20 pages of words! We’ve also done away with pages of technical notes and replaced these with short and snappy FAQs. Giving the client the answers to the questions they have without all the waffle in the between.

Whilst working through the testing phase and getting to grips with content, I came across the Recommended Provider section of our reports. We agreed that the focus here from a clients’ perspective would be two-fold “why this provider?” and “what will it cost me?”. So, you can imagine my disbelief when I came across a report which had A PAGE AND A HALF of wording on a provider, the majority of which referred to their business turnover and how many awards they’ve won in the last three years.

I think it’s safe to say the client is not going to read that, hell, even I just scrolled past to find the end! It’s just unnecessary and the client is not going to be interested. Their trust first and foremost is in you as their adviser. They want to know that you have done your homework and researched a provider’s turnover and how many awards they’ve won as part of making sure it’s the right fit for them. But they certainly don’t need to read about it themselves!

So, secondly what have we done to make our reports quicker and easier? Well, we have always had a strong administrative team at Para-Sols who do an amazing job of compiling all the existing policy data in preparation for the suitability report. So, we started there. We’ve improved the format of which the data is compiled and we’ve streamlined the journey from admin to paraplanning. Honestly, I’ve had spreadsheets, word documents and tables coming out my eyes for the last couple of weeks but seeing it all come together, and one end seamlessly follow on to the other has made my now necessary, yet impromptu Opticians appointment next week seem so worth it!

We’ve tried and tested the new style across paraplanners and the admin team and it’s been deemed a success! Cutting down on the time it takes to produce the report, all the while having an eye-catching end result. Check Mate.

So, to summarise, make it brighter, make it shorter, make it better… for everyone.

Featured in Financial Adviser.

My favourite book, To Kill a Mockingbird, once told me that there is nothing to fear but fear itself, though psychology tells us that (pre-Covid) the greatest worry shared among people was often money and job security, with health coming slightly further down the list. 

I imagine Covid-19 bumped health up the rankings, but it became obvious that finance worries had not been replaced by health worries; in many cases, they were exacerbated.

Through lockdown, being aware that we could not do much about the virus, or therefore people’s health worries, we focused on what we as paraplanners could do to help educate people about finance as well as help advisers alleviate their wealth worries.

As soon as lockdown hit, we spoke to as many advisers as we could, to find out what they were doing, how they were dealing with it and what we could do to help.

Finding new ways to communicate with clients, both existing and prospective, was high up the list for most.

We helped to support the servicing of their existing clients by introducing a virtual paraplanning service, whereby we would provide the video conferencing software, along with a trained client-facing paraplanner within the meeting to help smooth over adapting to a new process.

The market uncertainty was impacting hugely on people and cash flow modelling was a way to make the impact more tangible and reduce the level of fear.

We therefore rolled out a new cash flow initiative, modelling scenarios for clients – factoring in furlough, redundancy, and potentially a sooner than previously anticipated death.

These were the real fears being caused by Covid-19, and turning that into a practical model to discuss with their clients really helped advisers to reassure them.

We provided a business owner’s pack to provide hints and tips for advisers who were business owners, or who had some as clients, to help provide some clarity.

We also engaged with our community to see what we could do as a group to help the wider world throughout these unprecedented times, knowing advisers still had to service their clients, pandemic or not.

However, with many with many paraplanners busier than ever, annual suitability reports quickly became at risk of being delayed or missed altogether. We therefore offered free templates and guides to other paraplanners and advisers to streamline the process.

With everyone’s income taking a sudden and severe dip, we looked at what resources we had that we could give away, at no cost, to help others. We collated all our guides, templates, documents and white papers and put them on our website for free.

We believe now is a time for more people to get advice, and protect themselves from the volatility, but meeting a new adviser can be intimidating at the best of times, let alone when it has to be via Zoom.

So we made a video to help educate the public about how to find an adviser, why they should see one, what to expect, and how to avoid getting scammed.

It is in times of crisis that we need to look after our whole community and not just ourselves.

Supporting advice companies means helping them hopefully ride out the challenges and a stronger financial services profession for us all, and our clients, in coming years.

Now we are now in another national lockdown, I will once again be looking to see what we can do to help and support those around us. If you need help in any way, please feel free to get in touch.

Featured in Money Marketing.

I write this as England rides out its second lockdown. It feels different this time. I won’t go into the sociology or politics of why, but just from speaking to advisers and clients, it really does have a different vibe this time around.

In the first lockdown, there was a lot of furlough and hibernation, and attitudes of “Let’s sit this out and see how it goes”. This time, I think we’ve all realised the new normal is here to stay in some way or another.

So, what does this mean for financial planning?

We know that clients are more worried than ever about their finances and, therefore, need more support than ever. So I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how we can improve our service as paraplanners.

A major part of this is communication and how we can get more from a client meeting in a safe environment. With more of us going to be stuck in the house for longer, now is the time to really embrace tech in a way you never have before.

I recently launched a virtual paraplanner service, where the paraplanner can attend a client-adviser meeting through their favoured video conferencing software. This is something I recommend for in-house and outsourced paraplanners alike. Indeed, it is helpful for all three parties involved.

From the client’s perspective, they are provided with the confidence that you have really understood what they want and how they can achieve it, plus they can take comfort in what a forward thinking, tech-savvy firm they are dealing with.

Meanwhile, the adviser is pleased they don’t have to provide meeting notes and field questions about what they meant by “plan to sell Sarah’s Dream in five years’ time”, where they had omitted the fact it was the name of a boat and not a way for the husband to hurt his wife in the future.

And for paraplaners? Well, just imagine the benefits of dealing with the client in real time. Instead of all the to-ing and fro-ing of calling, and missing them and them calling back at 6pm when you are long logged off, you’ve got them where you want them, to ask all of the questions you need.

This helps achieve a deep insight into their thought process, objectives and needs, which makes for a compliant and personal file, and robust research and report process.

As part of The Verve Group’s #FYIfinance series, our very own Alex Buckle was featured to give the low down on all things being a paraplanner…

Not many people have heard of the paraplanning role in financial services, including Alex, who explains how she got into the industry below…

“I first came across the role of a paraplanner whilst applying for jobs after my degree. Having studied Psychology, where my days were full of Pavlov’s dogs and Skinner’s pigeons, it was fairly daunting entering the finance world. I was initially drawn to the role, however, by the promise of a new challenge every day and that having an analytical mind would come in handy.

In terms of an average day in the life of a Paraplanner, it’s hard to say, as every day is different. But I will usually be writing reports and/or carrying out research. The latter can range from tax calculations to provider and investment strategy research, using various software, such as FE Analytics or CashCalc. In more recent times, I have also been more involved in rebuilding our reports, making them more fun, digestible and interactive, and the feedback has been very positive so far. I am fortunate to be a part of a team who strives to be bold, confident and introduce new ways of working together within the financial sector.

A big part of being a paraplanner is sitting exams to further our knowledge. Therefore, a big challenge is being able to juggle a busy day at work with revising towards exams, all whilst trying to maintain a social life and pretending that I like going to the gym. Time management, a strong work ethic and a willingness to learn are therefore very important as a paraplanner.

I have learnt a lot over my three years in role, and the various exams – from what a pension actually is, and why it’s important to have one, and how I should approach getting a mortgage. You know, all the useful things that no one thinks to tell you in school, but can really help in the real world.

My top tip for those seeking a career in finance (and to those who may not even know they are yet) – don’t worry if you don’t think you have the right experience to work in the financial sector. I can’t emphasise enough how little I knew about finance before working at Para-Sols. In fact, it’s probably like a game of ‘Where’s Wally’ trying to find someone who did a Finance related degree in our office. There are so many life skills that are transferable to a role in finance. For example, in our office, we have roles which rely heavily on skills in terms of marketing, organisation, technical knowledge, time management, and the list goes on.”

Alex Buckle – Paraplanner

The start of my job application at The Verve Group seems so long ago, I was half way through the recruitment process awaiting to go along to the final stage when the dreaded COVID-19 and lockdown hit. A few months later my trial was booked and the next thing I knew I was sitting at my new desk as Executive Assistant!

As soon as I saw the advert it grabbed my interest and from first glance, I would have never guessed it was a role within finance. The Verve Group blows the stereotype of working in finance out the water, and my welcome has been so friendly and casual, without a suit in sight!

My first two weeks have been a fantastic insight into the brand and different companies which make up the group.

Firstly, I was thrown straight into learning about Para-Sols, speaking with all their clients to update the terms of business, a great way to get to know the different companies and the paraplanning services that Para-Sols offer.

Next up was Apricity Compliance – gaining an insight into the client journey from on-boarding with the system, to having quarterly and annual reviews with their dedicated consultant. 

A task from The Art of Finance then came along to send out lovely postcards to all those who had taken an exam following their training recently and had passed to say well done. Something I have noticed at The Verve Group is that they always deliver on those little things that mean a lot, and that’s to both clients and their employees.

On my first insight of the company I have found technology plays a massive part and they are either building new or incorporating current software into everything they do to improve and support the world of finance. This even goes down to the online interactive brochures they have on their services. It makes everything so easy, slick, efficient and all can be found or looked into at a click of a button. 

I’m really looking forward to learning more at my role here and to sum up… Verve is definitely ahead of the curve!      

I’ve had loads of questions around returning to the office and I know many business owners are struggling to figure out the best way to approach it, so thought I’d share our experiences.

There’s a lot of different views around IF a return to the office should happen. In the early days of giddiness around this new world and new way of working, I think many people thought that it might become a permanent structure for all. However, having worked from home, alone, for the first two years of starting Para-Sols, I knew first hand how quickly the thrill wore off and how difficult it becomes to maintain routine (and/or sanity).  

This recent survey from Citywire reflects this, showing the majority of firms have now decided to keep their offices, albeit with a bit more flexibility. Clearly, we all now know that working from home can work. Not only that, but we’ve also all been forced to put in place the infrastructure for that to happen (the logistics of which might have previously seemed insurmountable). And so it’s there, as an option, and I think any firms that go back to insisting their team are in the office, Monday – Friday, 9 – 5, with no flexibility at all, will find themselves at a disadvantage when recruiting in future. 

So, if we assume there may be some sort of returning to the office, how do we best do that? Well, practically, this article from Quilter talks about the logistics and legalities around this. But that is only a part of the puzzle; yes we need to do what is lawfully required, but we also need to do what’s right for our team, and that will vary from firm to firm.

Firstly, I would say, our return has been made smoother for a number of reasons: 

  • Very few in the Verve team use public transport in their commute. 
  • There’s also very few with children, meaning there aren’t too many childcare issues.
  • We moved into new, huge, offices in January. Any sort of social distancing in our previous chicken coop would’ve been impossible.
  • There’s 40 of us, which is manageable. The logistics of hundreds of employees is completely different. 

Your team structure and office set up will largely dictate your approach. Those aside, we realised that a huge part of the return challenge is the anxiety people are feeling right now. We’ve had months of our worlds being tipped upside down, being constantly fed conflicting information, and let’s not forget right at the start, when the media and communications we received instilled absolute terror in people. It was brutal seeing how extreme the fear was stirred up in some, and that level of fear doesn’t suddenly go away. So the concerns and anxieties are completely understandable. 

Our approach, therefore, has been: 

  1. All the necessary precautions around desk spacing, designated safe/private working zones, regular cleaning throughout the day, sanitiser / anti-bac etc. This stuff provides an important visual reminder, that can be regularly seen, acting as a reminder to everyone that we’re looking out for them, and they should be looking out for each other.
  2. Phasing the initial return, with half of the team back on Monday and half on Tuesday – to give that sense of coming together and have a big kick-off / catch up meeting, without it being overwhelming by having everyone back at once. 
  3. Encouraging flexible working/working from home for a number of days a week, and providing the equipment for this to happen.
  4. Arranging antibody tests for everyone who wants one (as inspired by Ray Adams at Niche. With this, we acknowledge the limitations around it and that there are no certainty antibodies result in immunity. The purpose of it comes back to the anxiety created around a lack of information and any tiny bits of extra knowledge or information we can give people can only help, albeit being a tiny part of the overall picture.
  5. Revamping our Vitality programme. This is our health and wellbeing programme, with physical (socially distanced) yoga and HIIT classes now taking place, and encouragement of the use of a counselling service we have for those who are struggling with the world as it is.
  6. All the fun stuff! Which we’re kinda known for – but making the first days back fun ones, with a New Chapter theme, pizza vans and breakfast mimosas meant that even those who had most been worried about the return quickly relaxed back into things. Sometimes that first step is the hardest one…

There’ll no doubt be many more challenges ahead for us all, but I thought it would be useful to share what we’ve done so far and why, right now at The Verve Group, we’re all very much looking forward to the future with a whole load of excitement.

Cathi Harrison – Founder and Director, Para-Sols & CEO, The Verve Group.

We’re still celebrating the fact that we won Paraplanner Team of the Year at the Professional Paraplanner Awards!

In this recent article from Professional Paraplanner, you can find out why we were deemed worthy of this award. Plus, you’ll gain some insight into the blood, sweat and tears that has gone into our work lately!

You may have heard we have been working on a little something called #Project2030. When the world went into lockdown, we knew we had to start looking at our services across The Verve Group differently, ensuring that they are fully future-proofed for our clients. And so, #Project2030 was born and the outcome saw the launch of many brand new services.

But what was the thinking behind #Project2030? Catch up on this article from our Founder & Director and CEO of The Verve Group, Cathi Harrison as she caught up with Nucleus.

Para-Sols Team

To say the last few weeks have been busy would be somewhat of an understatement. With the launch of our #Project2030 and the brand-new services that came along with it, our feet have barely touched the floor.

So, you can imagine the joy that it brought to the team when our efforts were recognised by Professional Paraplanner as not only were we shortlisted for Paraplanner Team of the Year, but we also went and won it!

The news could not have come at a better time – with all that’s going on in the world currently, it was a relief to have something to celebrate. We’re always proud of our team but especially when we pull together and make amazing happen.

For a reminder of the new services we have recently launched you can catch up below.

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COVID is a very bad thing, but one good thing that has come out of this is that it gave us a gift. A gift of time. And as I always say, time is the one thing that we Paraplanners need the most!

For so long I have been saying “I wish the world would pause for a moment, so I can have time to review the business properly”.  Well it did. And I did.

One of the things I’ve never had time for, and always wanted to have time for, is reviewing our suitability reports. I update them regularly; well the updates dictated by compliance or budget changes, but the fundamentals of it have always remained the same.

We all know that as paraplanners, the reports are our bread and butter; they take up the majority of our day and we’re very proud of the output.

Now, I think our reports are pretty good. We drop the jargon. We split it into three different formats, to ensure we cater to clients with different attention spans. They’re compliant. They are absolutely littered with infographics, colours, tables and charts, to make the information more digestible. They’re great, but can they be better? Can’t everything?

In addition, despite being my life’s work and having my heart and soul poured into them, deep down, I’ve always known there was a very large possibility that those reports were flipped through and popped into a drawer to read ‘later’ (at best). That no matter how many pretty colours or nice graphs we used, the majority of clients would absorb the information given to them by their adviser, ask their questions face to face, and see the report as a formality to back that up.

So, I had a ponder as to whether there was anything that could be done about that:

The vicious circle of reports is the more you try to explain a financial term, the more words you use, the lengthier the report becomes, the less likely they are to be read.

But what if we could take some of those terms, get rid of all the words, and turn them into videos? Or motion graphics? What if we could make the reports interactive, and visibly ‘pop’ so the client wants to at least have a play around with it, if not absorb every single word?

What if we could use animations to show the impact of the advice and the costs and charges, so they were as clear as clear could be? In fact, what if they got all of that information in an app, so flick through in their own time, maybe while on the tube or while in the hairdressers’ chair?

So that’s what we did. We trialled a load of programs and settled on one that can provide all the above and now we can offer “reports” which are sent to the client as a link, and is more of a presentation. Data is hyperlinked to other sites, for example the provider site, so we no longer need to add information on the platform. There are videos explaining risk and death benefits for example.

Some information is hidden until it’s hovered over and it is easily navigated around to go back and forth across the important bits.

And the best thing is?

It’s half the size.

It’s more usable and enjoyable for the client.

It feels more modern and in keeping with the technological age.

The feedback on it has been excellent and I’d like to think, that while there will always be a place in my heart for the current, word reports, that these report types will become the new norm as we drag suitability into the 21st century.

I have no doubt they will change in the future. And I hope they do. But this is a really good start.

Jo Campbell – Director

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So. Suitability reports. Our bread and butter as a business for the last 11 years and for pretty much all of Cathi’s (lengthy) time in financial services.

They’ve always been the time-consuming part of the process that advisers have wanted to get off their plate and onto the plates of someone who actually enjoys doing them. And that’s us; as paraplanners, we have a unique (read: odd) appreciation of suitability reports and using them to convey often complicated matters to the client in terms they understand.

At least, that was always the aim.

Deep down, we’ve always known there was a very large possibility that those reports were flipped through and popped into a drawer to read ‘later’ (at best). That no matter how many pretty colours or nice tables we used, the majority of clients would absorb the information given to them by their adviser, ask their questions face to face, and see the report as a formality to back that up.

And so we had a ponder as to whether there was anything that could be done about that:

  • Did they need to be quite so long??
  • Did they need to be printed? (think of the trees!)
  • Did they really have to be so flat?

The vicious circle of reports is the more you try to explain a financial term, the more words you use, the lengthier the report becomes, the less likely they are to be read.

But what if we could take some of those terms, get rid of all the words, and turn them into videos? Or motion graphics? What if we could make the reports interactive, and visibly ‘pop’ so the client wants to at least have a play around with it, if not absorb every single word?

What if we could use animations to show the impact of the advice and the costs and charges, so they were as clear as clear could be? In fact, what if they got all of that information in an app, to flick through in their own time, maybe while on the tube, in the hair salon or even in bed?!

Well, here you go. That was the philosophy around our reimagined suitability reports. And here is the output.  We’re continuing to develop them, because our innovation never stops. But we’re pretty pleased with what we’ve built so far and hope you and your clients are too.

Click here to view our interactive reports or view below:

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