Most people associate me with Para-Sols, my original baby, and a paraplanning business that has exceeded every hope I could have ever had for it. Paraplanning was my background, my first love, and building a company that enabled me to do what I truly enjoyed for a living was an absolute dream.

But, as all babies / businesses do, it grew up. It didn’t need me as much. Para-Sols has an incredible team, and a brilliant grad scheme that brings trainees through and takes them on the paraplanning journey. And so, without it needing 100% of my attention, I was able to look at what other issues there were in financial services that I thought I could help do something about; and along came Apricity. Still in its relative infancy compared to Para-Sols, it nonetheless has had its stabilisers removed (sorry for all the metaphors!) and I was once again able to scratch another itch I had.

And so today sees the launch of two more entities; The Art of Finance, designed to bring more people into financial services and show them what an amazing career option it is, and, pulling all of these together is The Verve Group.

Within the group is the existing brands and companies; Para-Sols, Apricity, The Grad Scheme and The Art of Finance, which all support at least one of the two missions of Verve:

To provide financial planners, of all shapes and sizes, with the best support services around and; shout about how brilliant a career in finance is, and provide opportunities for those wanting to get into it.

In addition to these, I have my own personal mission – to run the type of businesses I always wanted to work in. I regularly pledge to my team that working with me, they should never have ‘the Sunday night dread’, and if they do, I’m failing. Our employee total is approaching 35, and so the environment from when there were 5 of us is very different, and sticking to this mission means constantly changing and evolving; but it is one I am completely committed to.

So a lot has changed in the last 10 years (10 years!) but also a lot has stayed the same; a love of paraplanning, a desire to help promote financial services, an enthusiasm for supporting advisers and enabling them to build their businesses further, and a determination to be the best employer I can be.

It’s been an absolutely thrilling 10 years, and I can’t wait to see what the next 10 hold. Thank you so much to everyone who has helped and supported and generally been lovely to us over the years. It really is a wonderful profession to be part of.

Cathi x

Recently our Director, Cathi, took part in an interview with Professional Paraplanner where she was asked her 3 top tips from a compliance perspective to help paraplanners – this is what she said…

1. Get your head around charges disclosure – as best as you can!

Mifid II has caused all manner of bother, with very complex requirements that, for the most part, simply can’t be met right now, due to lack of information from funds and providers. But this will change from April, with enhanced reporting required from them.

So it’s important to start with a clean sheet, understand what disclosure is needed, and how you will turn that into something clear and understandable for your clients. As ultimately, that’s all that matters. Don’t get bogged down in detail that doesn’t benefit the client!

2. Be clear on the difference between a client’s needs and objectives.

Objectives being what clients want to achieve (retire at age 60, pay off mortgage, for example) while their needs are often identified by the planner, being more quantifiable, and more essential (£1,500 net per month in retirement for example).

Sometimes needs and objectives work in harmony. But sometimes they are mutually exclusive, and the planner may have to work with the client to understand the importance of their needs.

As a paraplanner, knowing this distinction, and challenging a factfind that doesn’t provide sufficient detail to enable you to identify both objectives and needs, will mean a more robust file, clearer process and more suitable advice.

3. Familiarise yourself with COBS 9.4.

Before you fall asleep, hear me out! At the recent Professional Paraplanner Technical Insight Seminar I presented at, almost every single paraplanner was amazed that in the Conduct of Business Sourcebook, the FCA only ask for three things to be in the suitability report.. 3!

1. The client’s objectives

2. Why the advice meets those objectives

3. What the disadvantages are.

Everything else, in theory, will be on the file, or in supporting documentation, such as an illustration.

In reality, we all put more than this in, as you want a single document clearly explaining the advice to clients.

But being familiar with the actual FCA requirements can really help you assess how your firm is approaching reports, and whether any improvements can be made.

For more information on how our sister company, Apricity, do compliance – head over to their website. 

Which direction does the profession go from here?

Recently our Founder & Director, Cathi Harrison, took part in an interview for Money Marketing around the paraplanning profession and where it’s heading. Read her comments from the article below…

Qualifications alone do not create effective paraplanners

“The role of the paraplanner has specialised over the past few years, in the same way the adviser role has. The focus for paraplanners is now ensuring they are spending time on the more technical elements suited to their skill set. This has meant the adviser, paraplanner and administrator roles have become much more clearly demarcated.

Overall, I don’t see a huge change in the number of paraplanners out there. Some will naturally move into adviser roles, and the number of new paraplanners just isn’t high enough to offset that and achieve growth in this profession. In terms of qualifications, working towards a Level 4 Diploma makes sense, but we do find, as is the case in most professions, that a qualification does not make a good paraplanner.

They help, and can back up good experience and the right skills, but are not the be all and end all.

Anything that isn’t client relationship management, and business managing, should be handled by a support team of paraplanners, administrators, office managers, HR etc, depending on the size of the firm. The actual tasks will be carved out depending on the people and roles available.

Again, there is no one-size-fits-all; it’s what works best for that firm, to ensure the clients get the best possible service and experience”.

For the full article, click here.

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.

Blog Image

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

 

 

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

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.

On Wednesday 21st September 2016, the Paraplanners at Para-Sols had a day out in Wakefield to attend the PFS Paraplanning conference, which was very informative and ensured we were all up to date with industry knowledge.

The day started well with tea, coffee and pastries – always a winner! However, that of course was not the real reason we were there.

Nick Edwards at Consultniks got the ball rolling with an excellent presentation on the important tax changes that were introduced earlier this year in the 2016 Budget, such as the new dividend taxation rules. The session was very informative and although we knew the tax changes already, made sure that we understood everything!

Other sessions held throughout the day included a presentation by Joanna Bevan at TIME Investments regarding Enterprise Investment Schemes (EISs), Adam Higgs at F&TRC regarding the software tools available within the industry and Paul Archer at Archer training who ran a session on understanding how to dodge the bullet in the work place and avoid conflict.

Neil Dickey from the PFS, who was facilitating the event, ran through a case study on divorce, which covered areas such as Bypass Trusts, in terms of whether they are relevant today given the introduction of Flexi-Access Drawdown. We love a case study at Para-Sols as it’s much more interesting to apply technical scenarios to a real life situations.

The highlight of the day however was of course our very own Jo Campbell, along with Darren Moore from Towry and Gemma Siddle from Eldon Financial Planning, having a debate (I must clarify this was pre-planned and fortunately did not get heated) regarding the general issues within Paraplanning today, such as whether to bring in a standard or benchmark for Paraplanners. We will leave this to you to decide…

The events are always very worthwhile for Paraplanners to go to, enables you to meet other Paraplanners and help you to keep up to date with the industry!

Cathi has been talking to Financial Planning Today about Paraplanning and how we keep up with growing demand. You can read the full article here.

Check out their shiny new online magazine for her ‘Inside My Business’ feature to find out more about how Cathi has made Para-Sols a success over the past seven years, and what she believes the future holds for Paraplanning.

So it is almost October and for a lot of us that means exam time! I’m currently working my way through my level 4 diploma in regulated financial planning, which includes 6 exams. This means that at the moment I have an exam every 2 or 3 months in addition to my 9-5 job, so plenty of studying!

Everyone has their own approach to exams, and different techniques work for different people. So what works for me may not work for you! But here are a few things I’ve found work/ don’t work….

1. Pace yourself. With an exam every few months, it’s easy to forget about it then cram in the last few weeks/ few days. This means a mountain of info to take in in a very short time – so I prefer to set myself a certain amount to do each week, say a chapter, so it isn’t all left to the end, and (hopefully) I take in more of it!
Don’t get me wrong, in the last couple of days before the exam I cram, but it’s a lot easier to cram the last couple of chapters than the whole book!

2. Study techniques. Try out different techniques, see what kind of revision helps you memorise stuff – visual, auditory etc. I’m an auditory learner, so listening to audio books on the material helps, as does reading the book out loud – although housemates/spouses may not thank you!!

3. Make a note of topics you aren’t sure of as you study. Sometimes it isn’t possible to go over the material multiple times, and when you have already taken something in can be a waste of time too. If I know what I’m not sure of, I know which little bits to go over again.

4. Don’t overdo it. I think this is pretty important. There is a point where info stops going in, so all you are doing at this point is wasting time or stressing yourself out. I don’t just mean this in terms of plenty of breaks, although that is important too as every study tips guide will tell you! I mean the amount of your spare time that you spend studying. Doing a bit of study each week in your free time is fine – studying all weekend, every weekend is overkill! Allocate yourself the amount of time (roughly) you are going to spend studying, and then stop.

5. Use your time wisely. I have a pretty long commute at the moment, so by the time I get home studying is the last thing I want to do!! So instead I get the audio summaries of the material and listen to them in the car on the way to/ from work. Pretty geeky but it means I don’t have to study evenings!