Can you believe it’s that time again?! Our first cohort of this years graduate training programme have joined us here at Para-Sols and are raring to go. Our assessment day, in April, saw us welcome 12 grads who were all hoping to join the crew and three of them blew us away with their personalities… on that note, let us introduce Fran, Alex and Helen!

After joining us only last week, they have already made their mark in the office and settled in as well as we had predicted. Below, we have the usual first impressions and some interesting information about each of them. If you’re prepared for a bit of a giggle and the opportunity to get to know our grads better, then have a read through.

P.S We’re busy at work updating our Meet The Team page as we speak so you’ll see their face pop up on there soon enough!

It’s been a busy and exam-tastic start to the year so we thought it was about time we updated you on our some of our academic successes, including the progression of some of our grads from last years graduate programme.

* spoiler alert, some of them aren’t ‘grads’ anymore!*

As a business, we encourage everyone to realise their potential and help them strive forward with their careers. Recently, a lot of them have proved their resilience by sitting (and passing!) exams during what is also a very busy time at work. It’s amazing to watch them grow in skills and confidence and exceed their own personal expectations. So, humour us as we spend the next few paragraphs boasting about how awesome we think they are….

We’re only 3 months into 2018 and across the grads, they’ve already passed 5 exams towards their Level 4 Diploma (in Regulated Financial Planning) and them, together with the wider team, have another 9 booked in for the next upcoming months – that’s impressive, even if we do say so ourselves! It is great to see that even when we are at our busiest, they are still booking their exams and using what spare time they do have to revise.

We recently set up a study club on a morning (three times a week), so those who want to can come in early, grab some breakfast and get their head in the revising game before the day starts and in the spirit of ‘knowledge transfer’, the study club is supervised by a senior member of the team so that there’s always someone on hand to answer their queries. Many of them have taken up the opportunity and this in itself makes us smile from ear to ear.

We do have a couple of grads who have already had promotions which leads us nicely onto the next part of this blog…

Lee Hastie and Holly Johnson joined us in 2017 with no background in financial services but a tenacious attitude and a real eagerness to learn. Now half way towards their Diploma and consistently hitting their personal KPI’s, both have been promoted to Junior Paraplanners –  they reall y are superstar paraplanners in the making!

Then there’s those who’ve came out of the other side of The Grad Scheme.  Kate Hall joined us in Summer 2015 and this month completed her Diploma and is now a fully qualified Paraplanner. There’s also Rachael Wilson who joined us in Autumn 2016 and is not far behind Kate – just one last exam to pass before also becoming fully qualified!

And last but by no means least, Grant Callaghan who is our ultimate success story. Grant joined us as our very first intern recruit back in 2013 and since then has continued to come on leaps and bounds. He quickly secured his Level 4 Diploma in Regulated Financial Planning and swiftly moved onto his Advanced Diploma – which he completed last month. His achievements don’t stop there, because in a few months time he will celebrate 5 years with us and will officially become Chartered. He’s a model Paraplanner and a wonderful mentor to our newest grads and it’s these qualities that secured him his most recent promotion to our Head of Paraplanning.

Seeing all of our grads embracing the world of financial services with such vigour makes us burst with pride every day. They’re hungry to learn and their enthusiasm is infectious, so it’s important that as employers, we continue to invest in them and manage out any challenges we face. It’s how we grow as business but above all else, it’s how we prosper as a profession.

We’ve been a little quiet on the blog front lately (sorry for that!), we’ve had a busy start to the year and you know how it is, weeks pass you by and the next thing you know you’re about to indulge in Easter…

As most of you will know, last year marked a huge turning point for Para-Sols. Our client list tipped over the 110 mark and we doubled the size of team in 12 months, a lot of which can be credited to us relaunching our graduate programme – The Grad Scheme – earlier that year. As with any expansion though, we certainly experienced some teething problems as we introduced new systems and processes, identified gaps in our training and just generally embedded new personalities into an already established culture.

Not ones to rest on our laurels and as great believers of only being ‘as good as your last report’, we focussed all our efforts into building up our learning and development framework for all the team (new and existing) and so that we always have an eye on our quality, introduced a new role which has seen our previous Head of Paraplanning, Jo Campbell, promoted to Director of Quality & Operations.

As well as a structure shuffle, Cathi, together our Director of Culture & Engagement Natalie Bell, also introduced a number of staff initiatives to make sure that the teams professional development didn’t take a back-seat when the day job got crazy busy.

“Encouraging personal growth runs at the core of everything we do. It may sound a bit of cliché, but we believe our role as employers is to encourage people to grow as individuals. Of course, when that happens we grow collectively as a business too” says Natalie Bell

At the end of last year, we put a temporary hold on onboarding new clients and have focussed the last 6 months on talent management alongside giving our existing client base some love and attention.

We’d be here until next week filling you in on all the finite detail of ‘how’, so in brief, here are some of the highlights…

  • designing and rolling-out our new report templates, making them much more user friendly and generally giving them a much fresher and modern look;
  • made the most of the down-time and closed the office for the first week back in January to deliver dedicated technical training across all levels of the business;
  • carried out a recruitment drive to build capacity in our ‘supporting roles’ so that our paraplanning team could maximise their time on the job at hand (more on that in a future blog);
  • launching a breakfast ‘Study Club’ for all staff so they have protected time, at least 3 times a week, dedicated to their studies with food available to fuel their mind and a senior member of the team on hand to answer questions;
    • sat, and passed, a record-breaking number of qualifications across January, February and March (see blog Exam-tastic Progress); and
  • bringing our Health & Wellbeing programme activity (such as step challenges, nutrition talks and setting up a running club) to the forefront to keep the inevitable Winter germs at bay and hold onto our sanity during the chaos.

It’s been an interesting year, and more recently, interesting few months but our leadership team have faced each challenge head-on and are feeling pretty proud of themselves for reaching this point still with a smile on their face and hair on their head (albeit with more grey). And although we’re not naive enough to think we’re walking into the sunset just yet, the light at the end of the tunnel is getting much brighter and as we head into Spring, we are seeing our efforts come to fruition.

 

 

2017 was a pretty momentous one for us at Para-Sols – we deem it, ‘our year of growth’. It’s the year we invested a huge amount of time and resource on improving our infrastructure. The year we immersed ourselves in a bigger vision – one that would serve the whole profession. Quite simply, it’s the year the business took flight and moved into its next stage of growth whilst remaining true to who we are.

So on this dreary Blue Monday, we’re reflecting on everything we achieved last year as a team and are thankful for the support and patience whilst we’ve made the transition. In true proud-parent-style, here’s a snippet of just some of the many milestones that we achieved last year.

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As 2017 draws to a close, we figured it was as good a time as any for a bit of reflection on the year that’s passed us by in what feels like the blink of an eye…

It’s been a pivotal and record-breaking year for us – a real turning point for Para-Sols as we moved into our next stage of growth as a company – and the success of The Grad Scheme certainly played its part in all that we’ve achieved.

Successfully recruiting our first graduate position way back in 2013 proved to be the inspiration for creating our own graduate training programme. After a number of other successful appointments over the following years, we formalised our training programme and “The Grad Scheme” was relaunched as its own brand in March 2017 and is a core element of our Five Year Plan growth strategy.

This year we’ve invested a huge amount of time and resource into creating a scalable infrastructure, one that also retains our world-class quality, meaning we’ve been busy formalising our training framework, launched a number of learning and development initiatives internally and restructured / recruited new roles to manage mentoring, operations and quality. With all of this now embedded, we expect The Grad Scheme to go from strength to strength and have our first recruitment day booked in for April 2018.

There will be a further three recruitment drives taking place next year, and as it was this year, our main aim is to find individuals with the right attitude, rather than the knowledge, meaning we have no set number of places available. We’re passionate about building the company with hard working motivated individuals and in return, offer a personalised career path which they can take ownership of and allow their ambitions to drive it forward.

This year’s new starters have worked incredibly hard to listen and learn, have embraced the Para-Sols way, made a start on their Diploma in Financial Planning and generally all progressed through their training program at an incredible pace.

Special achievements this year…

After working his way through his qualifications and building his own team, our first ever grad (back in 2013), Grant, has recently been promoted to Head of Paraplanning and is an integral member of the team.

As one of the first to join us this year, Holly, won ‘Best Newcomer of the Year’ at our annual Staff Awards which recognises hard work and personal achievement as well as commitment to the company.

As with any change, it’s been a learning curve and not without its challenges but as 2017 closes, we’re breathing a huge sigh of relief, giving ourselves a big pat on the back as the bulk of the hard-work is now complete and shift our focus to reenergising ourselves ready for another momentous year next year. We’ll drink to that… cheers!

You can read more about our new starters on the ‘meet the team’ page of the Para-Sols website. More information on recruitment for 2018 is available at www.thegradscheme.co.uk.

Photo – back, from left to right: Holly, Matthew, Lee, Sam and Sunaina.
Photo – seated, from left to right: Sophie and Alex

 

 

What better way to round off Para-Sols incredible year of growth than squeezing in just one last member of staff!  Whilst we’ve had a great year expanding our Trainee Paraplanners, the Technical Research team has been given a life of it’s own too.  So to help strengthen the existing team we are pleased to welcome Hannah as our final hire of 2017.  Hannah has come to us from a background in finance solutions and has fit seamlessly in to the team.  She tells us her impressions so far…

What’s been your first impressions of Para-Sols?

My first impressions were how friendly the office environment is and I really appreciated how organised everything was for me on my first day starting, I had a Mac set up waiting for me with everything installed and set up ready to go! Everyone is really helpful, even when everyone has a lot of work to do people are happy to answer all of my ‘newbie’ queries. I like how the company is growing and forward thinking therefore everyone’s opinions are valued, it doesn’t matter what your role is or how long you have been there. I particularly enjoyed the Christmas party, which was at the end of my first week here – it was certainly a good ice-breaker, so by my second week I felt fully at home in my new role.

What have you learnt so far?

I feel like I have learnt such a lot in a small period of time. I’ve had various spells of financial services experience before working here however not in pensions so I have learnt a great deal about specifics of defined benefit pension schemes and their complexities. As other new starters before me I have also had to get used to using a Mac which I am really enjoying and may end up wanting my own!

What are you most looking forward to?

I’ve started on the pensions side of things, but I am looking forward to learning about different financial products as and eventually getting some qualifications under my belt. I enjoy keeping busy at work, and because we have been so busy recently the days just really do fly by! I am also excited for the new year to do some more training, keep learning and when we expand the Technical Research team even further, I won’t be the newbie anymore and can help others too.

To find out more about Hannah you can also head over to her profile on our Meet the Team page.

We’re not entirely sure where the last month or two has gone so as the end of the year fast approaches, we’ve stopped, took a breath and realised we have yet to formally introduce our final cohort of this years graduate training programme (The Grad Scheme). Everybody, say hello to Sophie, Alex and Matthew (more affectionately named Mash!). We held an Assessment Day back at the end of September with 10 fresh-faced graduates wanting to join the Para-Sols tribe but there was three stand-out personalities that took the spotlight that day and made the decision an easy one for the management team.

They started with us mid-October at what was, and still is, an exciting but pretty chaotic time and were well and truly thrown in the deep end. Fast forward 6 weeks and thankfully for us, they’re proving to be strong swimmers!

As is the norm when new grads join us, they’ve shared their first impressions with us so pop the kettle on, take a read below and be sure to check them out on our Meet the Team area too where you’ll find out a little bit more about each of them…

Welcome to the new look Para-Sols website; refreshed brand, sexy new Resources area and an overall new feel.

Why the change?

Well we thought it was time to celebrate our growth and the fact that Para-Sols isn’t just my baby any more, it’s many others too. It’s grown up, become independent of me, taken on its own life force. And I’m incredibly proud of it. And of the team who have built it to what it is, and will continue nurturing the business, our brilliant clients, and the amazing culture we’ve created.

It has been just over 8 years since I started Para-Sols; 8 years which have gone by in the blink of an eye. We’ve seen many changes, and celebrated many highs during that time (you can see these on the Story tab) and recently the pace of change has accelerated.

The Grad Scheme, the new offices and the new sister company Apricity (that is on its way) have all combined to take Para-Sols into the next phase of its life. It has its own training framework, in-house pub, leadership programme and 3 office dogs. Which means it’s not a little start up any more. It’s a proper bona fide company. With an incredibly exciting future.

So we’re hoping our brand refresh reflects this and sets us up for the next phase of growth. I’m unbelievably proud of the team. Unbelievably proud of how far the company has come. And extremely grateful to our clients for letting us be part of their journey.

There are many, many things on the horizon (because I’m a fidgety so-and-so and can’t sit still / give my team peace for 5 minutes) which I’m looking forward to sharing with you all.

Enjoy the new site, feel free to give us feedback.. I’m off to raise a little toast to it in The Tunstall Arms.

Cheers!
Cathi

Our graduate training programme (The Grad Scheme) is going from strength to strength and last month we welcomed yet another two recruits to the team. We held an Assessment Day at the beginning of June, where 10 fresh and eager grads arrived ready to impress us with their energy and enthusiasm and luckily for us, we didn’t find just one, but two perfect candidates!

Having been with us just a short amount of time, Lee and Sunaina took no time in rolling up their sleeves and getting their feet firmly under the table and for us, already feel like part of the family. They have shared with us their reflections at the end of their first week and thankfully, it sounds like the love is reciprocal! Phew…

Have a look below and be sure to check them out on our Meet the Team area too where you may find out a little bit more about them both.

 

I have been inspired to write this blog following a recent leadership course I attended. It was a course for female leaders and I admit to some initial scepticism as to why it needed to be female only; surely the leadership values were the same for all genders? However, there were two reasons I felt afterwards that it was useful being a women only course:

• The content on the course reflected the fact that women naturally have different leadership styles to men, and was focused on those styles and how to best develop the stronger ones.
• There was something about the room being full of women, all 80 of us, that gave it an amazing energy. I don’t want that to sound naff; but it was such a friendly, open, sharing environment. I genuinely felt that everyone in there had known each other months – not minutes by the time we did our first group session. And because of this, I got so much more out of the day than if the environment hadn’t been as relaxed.

Anyway, unnecessary scepticism aside, I took quite a few learnings away from the day, which I wanted to share. I’m a very practical person; I like tangible outputs. And so immediately after the event, I could say I had taken away:

• An understanding of my leadership style. An important one this; I was classified as a ‘Pioneer’. I like challenging things and coming up with new ideas. Not a great shock. What was good to learn though was that I always assumed that this created an exciting, fun environment to work in, and the course showed me that that’s only the case for other Pioneers. Everyone else would just feel unsettled and insecure, craving a bit of stability and for me to not come up with a new idea every 5 minutes!
• A list of practical things I could implement, such as training for my strategic leadership team (the all female Para-Dolls!), and an accountability partner to make sure I stick to my plans (and vice versa); someone to be accountable to is actually something I’ve never had since starting the business, so is an interesting one!
• I got on well with a group of the ladies there; we immediately set up a Whatsapp group and so now I have a network of people to bounce ideas off or ask for advice, again, something I’ve never really had.

However, there are more, intangible benefits from the day; things that have only come to light as I’ve spent more time reflecting over the last few days, and which I think will profoundly impact the way I take the business forward now.

1. Firstly was the reminder as to why I started Para-Sols in the first place. We did some work on what our passions were as children, to trace how they led to what we do now. I really struggled with this – I couldn’t think of anything I was passionate of as a child! Eventually I remembered my favourite ever Christmas present… a box of stationery (insert geek emoji!)*. I absolutely LOVED all the coloured papers and envelopes and little stamps. My other passion, which I’d forgotten about, was writing stories. My school even arranged for some of my short stories to be displayed in the local library; so no surprise at the paraplanning career!

However, we then delved a bit deeper. Those reasons explain, to some extent, my career choice. But not why I had started a business. The exercise brought up my true reason; that as a child, I was one of six children, to a single parent, and we didn’t have two brass tacks to rub together. I mean really, we were so far under the breadline, the breadline was a dot to us (to paraphrase Joey Tribbiani). While I don’t think it did me any harm, I always knew that I would never, ever want my own child to know the embarrassment of not having school shoes, or being unable to afford the gas and electric meters on a regular basis. And that was why I started the business; because I needed control of my own destiny, and control of the future for my babies.

The upshot of this, on reflection, is that I’ve always been guilty of micromanaging the company. I knew I did this, and I knew I shouldn’t, but now I know why. I know it’s because I’m terrified of losing what I’ve built and so I try and control every single element of it, which just results in stifling the growth. To counter this, I’ve decided to create a Plan B; what I will do if Para-Sols collapsed tomorrow. I haven’t finalised this yet, but just the process of it is giving me comfort and reassurance in the future for me and my children, which, in turn, will help me to unshackle the business and allow it to blossom.

2. Any other business owners recognise this scenario? Someone asks what you do for a living and you explain that you run your own business. They ask a few more questions, which you answer, and then say they’re really impressed. You respond with something self deprecating like “yeah I really don’t know how I’m running a business; I just kind of bumble along and make it up day to day”… That is how I ALWAYS respond to these questions. I was always aware of suffering Imposter Syndrome; who doesn’t suffer it to some degree on at least one part of their life?

But on the course I was in a room with 79 other female leaders. I had expected them all to be entrepreneurs, but actually only one or two I spoke to ran their own business. The rest were in leadership in roles in organisations of all shapes and sizes, across all industries. And as we talked, each time someone asked what I did, I told them, they expressed how impressed they were, I put myself down, or blamed my success solely on luck, or ‘joked’ how it will all probably end tomorrow since I don’t know what I’m doing and that’s why I’m on a leadership course….

After the 7th or 8th person told me how impressed they were, and after two ladies who were in really influential roles asked for my number as they were ‘inspired’ by me, something started to click. It’s taken a few more days of marinating but I’ve decided that it’s time to stop. To stop putting myself down. To stop saying that my business is only functioning down to luck. To stop assuming everyone else is doing a better job at managing their companies than me.

Instead, I’m taking ownership of what I’ve done. I always say how proud I am of my team, and I am. But, it turns out I’m also proud of myself. I’m proud to have a built a successful, profitable business, that employs 17 people. I’m proud that although I started off bumbling along with no idea what I’m doing, I’ve studied, and developed and learned so that I actually can run a business, by design, not chance. And I’m proud that this has been achieved not through luck, but through learning from my mistakes, making any necessary changes quickly, no matter how painful, and from sheer bloody hard work.

So there we go – pretty useful course huh?! The upshot is that I feel far more confident about the business, far less scared to take risks, and I think you’ll see that in the coming months as I now have the strength to launch some of the things I’ve thought about, but cautiously held back from.

It’s going to be quite a ride, and I can’t bloody wait!

Cathi x

* True story. I asked my mam a few days later “do you remember what my favourite Christmas was as a child?” and she replied, without hesitation, “the year you got all the stationery”! Apparently I used to spend hours pretending I worked in a Post Office (no surprise then that I worked at Royal Mail for 6 years from the age of 16).

I recently attended the Intelliflo Change the Game conference. The technology focus is what initially attracted me to it. However, the main take away I got from it in the end was the talk by Graeme Codrington of Tomorrow Today.

His presentation focused on future proofing your business, both in terms of considering what the future may hold for your company, what challenges might be facing it, but also considering the future of your clients, or, more importantly, how your future clients may look.

We are all aware that the pace of technology is astonishingly fast and the impact of this is the world changing at a greater speed than it ever has. This impacts on everything; automation, working patterns, health, job expectations, and all of these will affect our businesses to some extent.

Some of the facts he shared which I found particularly interesting were:

  • For every week we live, we are adding 1.5 days to our life! This reflects the pace of medical advances. How does this affect you? Think about cashflow planning you do with clients. Or the critical yields on their drawdown plan. On the relative value of an annuity (if it’s being paid out for 50 + years, it might look a bit more attractive!

 

  • 78% of people check their emails within 15 minutes of waking up. 15 minutes! Most people, if they realise they’ve left the house without their mobiles will go back just to pick them up. How does this affect you? The future is mobile. In some way, shape or form, everything will be impacted by this. Does your client have access to real time valuations or a client portal on their phone? This will be an expected feature in future – is it time to start thinking about it now?

 

  • Automation; not to say something as dramatic as ‘the robots are coming’.. but.. the robots are coming! Maybe not in their current format (“robo-advice” has some developing to do), and maybe not in the next 5 / 10 years. And if you’re not expecting to be working in 5 / 10 years then maybe you don’t need to be concerned. But for the rest of us, it’s definitely something we need to consider. What are we currently doing that can be automated? This takes a big leap of imagination – but it’s an exercise worth doing as it can help identify the parts of your service that are weak and can be replaced. By assuming the robots will take them at some point, this leaves, the parts of your service that can’t be automated. And THAT’S where you add value, where you can make a difference and how you can future proof your business.

I won’t repeat his whole presentation but needless to say I took away many ideas to implement both in Para-Sols, and in the service we offer our firms.

Most definitely food for thought.

Guess who’s just turned 8 years old? That’s right, us! 1st June is a great day to celebrate a birthday – Marilyn Monroe, Morgan Freeman, Heidi Klum – we’re up there with the very best of them.

Those of you who know us well will know that every birthday we pull out all the stops to make sure the full team have a good old fashioned knees up – cake, bubbles, balloons, you name it, we had it.

It’s fair to say that it’s the ‘away day’ the team look forward to most and this year didn’t disappoint. We spent the morning tying up the week’s loose ends and having new professional team shots taken (see right) before getting celebrations underway in the afternoon. Previously, we’ve been go-karting and gotten very muddy doing an assault course in a forest so this year, we decided on an activity which yes, was less active but still required the same sort of soldier-like stamina and endurance. This year, we did wine and cheese tasting! Look how civilised we’ve become in our ‘old-age’, some would say we’re like a fine wine… (pun intended).

In true Para-Sols fashion, there was also a competitive twist in the shape of our bi-annual Para-Sols Quiz and we must say, Si and Sam did a fine job as Quiz Masters to keep the order on the battlefield, especially when wine-fuelled emotions ran high during the tie-break. Still standing, we finished the evening with tapas, cocktails and dancing so all in all, a good time was had.

Yes, birthdays are undoubtedly a time for cake and fizz, but they’re also a time for reflection as you look back at what you’ve achieved. We did that too this year, with a humbling sense of how much we’ve grown. A record-breaking increase in turnover, 5 new members of staff (since the beginning of 2017) and more grads set to join us next month via our Grad Scheme, has given us a big almighty push of motivation and determination to achieve the HUGE plans we have in motion for the year ahead.

*puts down the wine glass, rolls up sleeves and gets back to work*

P.S You’re itching to know we’re sure, the tie-break question was ‘How many rooms does Buckingham Palace have?’. Tweet us with your guess. No cheating now!

DBTfnU0XsAAehvi.jpg_largeHAPPY BIRTHDAYTO US(2)