What is a paraplanner?

Leisa Sullivan

Senior paraplanner

Although many are familiar with the role of a paralegal, few have heard of the paraplanner. What do they do and how do they help you?

Although many are familiar with the role of paralegal, not many have heard of the role of paraplanner. When I joined Investec Wealth & Investment (then Rensburg Sheppards) just over 10 years ago, I was one of four. IW&I now has a team of 29 paraplanners and our numbers are continuing to grow, just as they are across the industry.
 
As a profession we are in great demand within the financial services sector but there is still some confusion as to what a paraplanner is and what we do on a day to day basis. We are not secretaries, administrators or Financial Planners and the aim of this article is to explain our role and provide greater understanding as to exactly what it is that we do.
 
Paraplanning has only been recognised as a profession in its own right for a relatively short time. Around 20 years ago Financial Planners started to realise that they were spending more and more time on administration, research and report writing, which in turn was limiting the amount of time that they could spend with clients.
 
Paraplanning has only been recognised as a profession in its own right for a relatively short time.
Simultaneously, some financial services administrators were starting to wonder exactly where their careers were heading and how they could put into practice the technical knowledge that they had developed, sometimes over many years.
 
The role of paraplanner was born, but it is often not a clearly defined role, and this is exacerbated by the fact that different Financial Planners have differing requirements from their paraplanners. A paraplanner’s ultimate goal is to free up as much of the Financial Planner’s time as possible so that they can concentrate on what they do best, which is sitting in front of clients.
 
We also work closely with Financial Planning Administration to provide clients with a professional and seamless ongoing Financial Planning experience. This team based approach ensures that that by using each individual’s strengths, the whole is greater than the sum of the individual parts.
 
So what does a paraplanner at IW&I do on a daily basis? It is an exceptionally varied role and can be broken down into four core areas:  
 

Preparing technical reports and recommendations

The paraplanner undertakes product research, obtains illustrations and uses analytical software to review a client’s existing arrangements. Cash flow analysis is increasingly becoming a vital part of the research that we undertake.
 
This research is then pulled together into a detailed suitability report for the Financial Planner to review before it is forwarded to the client.
 

Implementing recommendations

Once the Financial Planner has put forward the recommendations to the client and the client has agreed to go ahead, it is the paraplanner’s responsibility to facilitate the smooth processing of the business. This can involve multiple applications in some of the more complex areas of advice.
 

Preparing and maintaining compliant client files

The paraplanners take responsibility for preparing and maintaining detailed client files and records. The highest compliance and organisational standards are critical to a firm like IW&I and being able to provide historical context to clients in relation to their advice journey is a pre-requisite.
 

Preparing Annual Reviews

The preparation of Annual Reviews has become a vital part of our business. As part of the service that we provide to our clients we produce a Financial Planning Review at least annually. The Annual Review is designed to encompass all areas of a client’s personal and financial situation including any financial planning products they may have.
 
In addition to the above, paraplanners must maintain detailed, up-to-date knowledge of all aspects of Financial Planning. Taxation and legislation is constantly changing and we have to keep abreast of all of the changes.
 
When time permits most paraplanners are keen to attend client meetings with the Financial Planner, as it enhances the team based client relationship and also gives the paraplanner a greater understanding of the client’s particular circumstances and objectives.
 
Paraplanners attend client meetings with the financial planner, as it enhances the team based client relationship.
Having an excellent working knowledge of Microsoft Office, Word and Excel, as well as excellent organisational skills is a given. paraplanners at IW&I are well qualified. The benchmark at IW&I is the Chartered Insurance Institute (CII) Diploma in Financial Planning, although many have either attained or are working towards CII Chartered Financial Planner status.
 
In addition to being well qualified, it is essential that paraplanners have good communication skills as well as excellent analytical ability. IW&I has recently launched a Paraplanning Career Pathway with the aim of encouraging all paraplanners to develop their own career aspirations and goals.
 
Paraplanners tend to fall into two groups; those who see Paraplanning as a career in its own right and those who see it as a stepping stone to becoming a Financial Planner. IW&I offers both options for paraplanner career development. The pathway will also provide a framework for recruiting further trainees.
 
It is essential that paraplanners have good communication skills as well as excellent analytical ability.
For the career paraplanner who wishes to stay in their existing role, we are looking at ways in which they can take on more responsibility. This could be, for example, by helping to mentor and develop our Trainee paraplanners, or perhaps by becoming a “product specialist” and concentrating on one technical area of expertise, for example Venture Capital Trusts (VCTs) or Estate Planning.
 
The other route is to become a trainee financial planner. We have two paraplanners who are already on this career trajectory and we hope to have more joining them later in the year. The Trainee Financial Planner Pathway is a flexible programme, which usually lasts for two years and is aimed at providing the individual with all the client and soft skills that they will need to become a well-rounded Financial Planner.
 
Hopefully this article has explained exactly what a paraplanner is and what they do on a day to day basis. IW&I has a talented team of experienced and well qualified paraplanners, who are a vital part of our Financial Planning team.  
 
Our Paraplanning Career Pathway offers exciting career prospects, training and development opportunities and we hope that it will further help to strengthen our team in the future.

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