Just how does our Director, Jo Campbell, manage our growing team of paraplanners? She spoke to Professional Paraplanner to explain all… 

Click here for the article.

This really is an age-old question, alongside legends such as “why is the sky blue?” and “in the land of Cinderella, why did she have such unique feet that she was the only size in the village, yet the shoe was such a perfect fit, it still managed to fall off?”. I digress, sorry. So, the question of “just what is a paraplanner?” has haunted me at dinner parties, the occupation box on ANY application form and even in my own industry. It’s not one that is easily answered but SM&CR (Senior Management & Certification Regime) has dictated that we give it another bash.

For those not familiar with the new SM&CR proposal, in a nutshell, it is new FCA legislation around ensuring the people in your business who can impact upon the client are properly regulated and appropriate for that role. Senior Managers and Certified People. (Learn more about how our sister company, Apricity, can help you in your SM&CR preparations here).

The Senior Management side of things is pretty easy to define, but the second area; the Certified personnel is slightly more obscure. The relevant factors that firms would be required to consider in assessing individuals include whether the role is simple or largely automated, or involves exercising discretion or judgement.

In essence, the FCA has said it is up to advice firms to conclude whether paraplanners should be considered to hold the Client Dealing Function. The FCA rule has been drafted in a way “that provides firms with the flexibility to exercise judgement on whether a role requires certification” Helpful.

Therefore, it may seem quite obvious for the majority of people in your business. You know yourself who has what impact (planners/advisers) and those who have less impact (administrators etc), but what about that weird hybrid we call the lesser spotted Paraplanner?

In general, there are three species of paraplanner.

The in-house paraplanner.

Usually found around the same watering hole and highly skilled in client relations, business models and specific investment propositions. They tend to have the larger impact on your business and depending on the genus of your particular paraplanner, are the most likely to be needing certification. This is especially important if they are involved at any decision level of the advice process or if they contribute to any investment proposition choices.

The outsourced paraplanner.

These tend to roam around the habitat and are curious creatures. They taste a lot of different foods and specialise in a number of different providers, investment strategies, tax areas and financial planning solutions. They tend to be less involved with the client, interacting more with the adviser and thus tend to have less impact upon the decision making of the business and are less likely to require certification.

The third is the middle ground. The Liger, if you will. Those paraplanners who are either inhouse but make no decisions and perform more administrative duties or are just essentially report writers; or the outsourced paraplanners who have such a strong relationship with the adviser they do assist in decision making and can impact upon the end client. 

Essentially, it will be up to adviser firms to decide whether your chosen paraplanner should be considered a certified employee and whether or not they should be included in the second tier level of the SM&CR rules. My advice is to use discretion, but to err on the side of caution. If you think they may have any impact, have them certified. It can’t hurt. Unlike Ligers which apparently can hurt you. (I appreciate I’ve stretched this metaphor really far now and am going to leave before I turn full Attenborough and start preaching about how we should recycle paraplanners to stop turtles getting their noses stuck in them).

Jo Campbell – Director of Quality & Operations. 

On 1st June, we turned the grand age of ten! Below, our Founder and Director, Cathi, shares her reflections on the last decade…

“Well – 10 years – that went fast!

The official birthday for Para-Sols is 1st June, as June 2009 is the month I did my first freelance paraplanning work and was able to do a huge invoice at the end of the month for around £40…  

I had, however, been working on the business for 3 months by this point. I had quit my employed paraplanning role, sold my car, and figured the proceeds from the car were sufficient to pay my mortgage and basic expenses for those 3 months, by which point I would surely be living the freelance dream.  

In reality, I hadn’t factored in things like needing to eat, and so by the end of the 3 months (end of May), I was completely broke. Literally the most broke I’ve ever been in my life. I was recounting a story the other day of, around this time, feeling depressed that my new business wasn’t going how I wanted, I dug around and found 20p in my flat. Literally the only 20p I had left in the world. And I went to Greggs to treat myself to an iced split which I recalled being 17p. But, when I got there, I discovered that, thanks to the wonders of inflation, they were now 25p, and I couldn’t afford one.  

I walked down to my Mum’s (obviously couldn’t afford petrol) and sat and cried at the fact I couldn’t even buy a cream cake. She gave me 10p, told me to go and buy one, and then to go and get a job, as I obviously couldn’t carry on like this. I suspect the majority of new businesses go through similar struggles and lows at the beginning, and I can easily see why many people would choose to stop at this point. I almost did.  

Fortunately for me (not so fortunately for the people who have to deal with me on a daily basis), my intense stubbornness wouldn’t let me quit just yet. I managed to get a repayment holiday on my mortgage, did some part-time waitressing (terribly) to feed myself, and, at the end of that month, was able to do my first invoice… and away we went.  

And what a ten years since! So many highs, so many challenges, so many lessons learned, and the ability to meet and work with so many wonderful people along the way. I’ll be forever grateful to those who have taken a chance on me and Para-Sols; the team, especially the early employees (I’m looking at you Jo Campbell) for taking the risk of joining a fledgling company. And the clients that give us the opportunity to support them and their businesses, and understood when the inevitable growing pains hit and things sometimes got difficult.  

There’s an old adage that ‘overnight success’ actually takes 10 years to achieve… and I have felt every day of those 10 years to get to where we are now! But where we are is somewhere phenomenal, with a huge amount to still look forward to as we build out the businesses within The Verve Group over the coming 10 years.  

So Happy Birthday Para-Sols; thank you to everyone that has supported us, and roll on the next 10 years! Time for an iced split or two I think…”

 

For those internal administrators out there on the verge of pulling your hair out, look no further… we have the answers for you!

Let’s face it, we all know how painfully time-consuming chasing insurance companies can be! Unfortunately, we can’t create any miracles here – however, we may just have some handy hints and tips to ease your stress levels when sending off a Letter of Authority (LOA).

Letter headed paper

To begin with, we would always recommend your LOAs are printed on letter headed paper. You may slip through the net on occasion without a letter headed LOA, but the chances are slim these days. There’s an hour of your life you won’t get back sitting on hold, waiting to find out it’s been declined! If your letterhead doesn’t include the firms’ company address and FCA number, we would recommend that this is to be included within the main body of the letter. This is always required by insurance providers so shouldn’t be avoided.

Info, info, info!

No doubt you will have come across a situation where the adviser has met with a client and the client has no idea what type of plans they have, just a few annual statements stored away from previous years. Our advice to you would be to find out as much information you can from any documents the client has such as, what type of plan this is & plan numbers etc.

You should then have enough information to confirm with the provider which department to send the LOA to, how they would prefer to receive this and whether they require a wet signature, or are happy with a scanned copy. The more groundwork that is done at this stage, the easier it should be once the LOA has been sent off, as you should have a specific department to chase and confirm turnaround times etc. Otherwise, the LOA could disappear into the depths of Aviva, never to be found again.

Most providers will only implement LOAs for a certain period of time. Therefore, if your firm is looking to retain ongoing servicing for the client until requested otherwise, it’s worth including a brief sentence stating this.

What else?

Other points we would recommend to include in your LOAs would be the following;

Clients’ Name

Clients’ D.O.B

Clients’ Address

Clients’ NI Number (required for Final Salary schemes, not generally necessary for money purchase & investments)

Clients’ Signature

Plan Type/s

Plan Number/s

We hope this provides you with some guidance – good luck!

Our Founder & Director, Cathi, will be speaking at Money Marketing Interactive on 4th April  2019 – in the meantime, they’ve conducted an interview with her which you’ll find below…

What is the most encouraging advice market trend you are seeing at the moment?

Advisers changing their mindset from being advisers, to being business owners who happen to give financial advice. Not only does this mean more professionalism, it means more robust, long-term business. It also means better client outcomes and advisers embracing things like technology, outsourcing and implementing compliance frameworks – not because they have to, but because they can see sound business logic in it. This shift will escalate in coming years and turn financial services into a true profession.

What one word or phrase do you think sums up the state of the financial planning profession today?

Trying. Both in the sense of regulation and market conditions making it a very trying time for advisers, but also that all the advisers I speak to and work with are trying so hard to navigate through all of this, to support their clients, to give them piece of mind and to build sustainable profitable businesses. It feels like there’s a huge amount of effort from all angles at the moment, and I think that bodes really well for the future of finance.

What do we need to do to improve financial literacy in the UK?

It simply needs to start earlier. It was hearing about someone receiving an inheritance, when I was 22, that made me question what they would do with that inheritance, and realise I literally had no idea about the world of finance whatsoever.  Not even what an ISA was. Or how a pension worked (despite being in a GPP).

Realising there was this huge gap in my knowledge of something so fundamental is what drove me to begin a career in finance. But I was already 22 and had made some poor financial decisions in life. It’s been said a million times before, but the fundamentals should really be taught in school – as a minimum.

What is the one key skill all aspiring advisers should learn?

It always has been, and always will be, about people, about building their trust, connecting with them to a level that they feel comfortable talking about their money, something that doesn’t come easily to most people.

Having knowledge is important. But listening skills, empathy, and being able to explain the complex in simple terms will always be the mark of a truly great adviser.

Read the original article here.

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