Paraplanning within a financial planning business – a case study

How does the paraplanning function operate within the overall financial planning business? We thank the team at Creative Wealth Management for giving us this insight into how things work behind the scenes – and showing how paraplanning is clearly a key driver of success.

About the business

Creative Wealth Management Ltd. is a firm of Chartered Financial Planners based in Croydon. It is part of Creative Benefit Solutions Ltd. which, in January 2018, celebrated their 10th anniversary. The firm looks after more than 400 individual clients with over £1.3 billion of funds under advice.

We currently have seven advisers, four of whom have the prestigious Chartered status. The others are Diploma qualified but continuing their studies to also obtain Chartered status. Within the team, three of the advisers are also Pension Transfer Specialists, a particular area of expertise to allow advice on Defined Benefit pension transfers.

Creative Wealth Management Ltd.

We have a team of up to eight paraplanners supporting the advisory team, provided through a combination of internal staff and external resources supplied by The Timebank. This combination of in-house and outsourced paraplanning works well for us. It allows us the ability to flex our resource based upon case volumes, complexity and any staff absences. Additional support is provided through five in-house administration and sales support staff.

What is a paraplanner?

This might seem like a strange question, but it seems to mean different things to different people. In short, here we’re talking about a ‘paraplanner’ as a person who works with a financial adviser or planner and completes a number of the non-client facing tasks that are involved in preparing and administering a financial plan or report for a client.

A paraplanner will typically have gained many years’ experience of working within financial services and so will have developed extensive technical, product and provider knowledge. All of our paraplanners are at least Diploma qualified, which helps to ensure that we provide the best service possible for our advisers and most importantly of all, for our clients. Our paraplanners and advisers work together closely to provide the detailed and bespoke advice and service which our clients really value.

Working together

The relationship between adviser and paraplanner is very much one of a team working together in order to deliver the best solution for a client – and the business too.

At Creative Wealth Management we ask that:

  • our advisers provide a completed client file, i.e. factfind, meeting notes and handover/submission sheet, once their initial client meeting has been completed;
  • the paraplanner appointed to the case will then have a briefing conversation with the Adviser about the client’s needs and circumstances to ensure that they fully understand the case;
  • the adviser frequently uses the paraplanner as a sounding board when formulating their advice, not just for technical queries but to ensure they fully understand the product being recommended to meet the client’s needs. We find this works very well given the fact that we, the paraplanners, are at the coalface, dealing with product providers on a regular basis.
Things that work and things that don’t
    • With the paraplanning team completing the more time-consuming activities of writing reports and other administrative tasks, this enables the adviser to spend their time effectively with clients and use their skills more efficiently. This allows them to feel confident in the knowledge that their recommendations will be successfully implemented.
    • It is important that advisers don’t leave gaps or any areas which could be misinterpreted in their factfinds or briefings, as this means time being wasted and/or incorrect advice being given.
    • Paraplanners are not mind readers! We ask that all advisers make their instructions clear and comprehensive, and that they work to the remit that as the paraplanner may not have been present at the client meeting, assume that they know nothing about the client’s objectives. If it’s not written down, it didn’t happen!
    • Paraplanners are not miracle workers. We strive to ensure that we are given the appropriate time to provide all the analysis, quotes and reports, etc. that are required. We work on the principle that whilst we understand that clients want things done as quickly as possible, it is always better to under-promise and strive to over deliver. Managing clients’ expectations are therefore a crucial part of the relationship.
Getting the process right
    • Two key processes that we have developed are our handover checklist and executive summary.
    • The handover checklist has been designed to be completed by the adviser to ensure that all pertinent instructions about the case, and which the paraplanner needs to be aware of, are clear. It helps to ensure that all relevant assets and liabilities of the client are identified so that valuations and statuses can be updated, and so that any charges or special instructions are clearly highlighted.
    • A case team, consisting of paraplanner and administrator, are given ownership of specific client cases, so we can become familiar with the details and thus minimise the risk of key points being missed. We find this makes for a smoother process and better client experience.
    • Using the executive summary ensures that the whole case team are aware of the recommendations and agreed solutions, and can fully implement them with ease. This is useful as often different members of a case team come into play at different times.
Paraplanning – how it works for us
    • As we rely on the support of external paraplanning resources to provide the ability to flex our capacity based on workloads, it is very important that we ensure that this external resource works to the same standards as our internal team.
    • Within our internal resource is a team leader who manages our team of creative paraplanners. They also liaise with The Timebank, who we use for that outsourced function, around our need for additional support, and on the cases being worked on by them.
    • They have a similar lead paraplanner who will have regular calls with our team leader, to catch up with any changes to details, policies and procedures, and to pass on any feedback, good and bad. All relevant information is cascaded down to their team in respect of any operational adjustments that need to be made to ensure all reports are up-to-date and consistent.
    • Whether the paraplanner is in-house or outsourced they all perform the same role. A paraplanner will review a case once it has been received and then make a call to the adviser to discuss any queries they may have. This is a great opportunity to clarify all the points which need to be covered in the report itself, and it also gives us the chance to double-check that the advice is appropriate. Where additional information on existing plans is needed we use the administration and sales support team to obtain this.
    • Once satisfied that we have a complete file and a clear instruction to proceed, we put together the report along with the supporting documents.
    • Once a report has been finalised, this gets handed to the administration and sales support team to package for delivery to the client (in the post or face-to-face by the adviser), along with all the necessary enclosures and forms needed to implement the recommendations.
    • Our paraplanners also carry out the additional tasks including:
      • Handling client queries;
      • Carrying out technical research and analysis;
      • Submission of applications;
      • Implementation of recommendations through to completion;
      • Attending client meetings where required.
Tips for advisers and paraplanners
    • Communication is key!
    • Assume intelligence not knowledge.
    • Manage realistic client expectations – it is far better to exceed a client’s expectations rather than setting unrealistic targets which may not be met.
    • Dealing with providers always takes longer than you think; dealing with Defined Benefit schemes takes even longer!
    • Never assume anything – double check the details if you are unsure of something.
    • Don’t be embarrassed to ask for help or advice when you need it; between the members of our team, and the resources available to us at The Timebank, there is a wealth of knowledge and experience available which can be used to provide clients with the best outcomes.
Job satisfaction
    • We get a real sense of achievement from helping our clients meet their objectives, implementing the recommendations through to completion.
    • We take pride in ensuring that we meet the client’s expectations, by paying attention to detail, making sure timescales are met and issuing clear communications with the client throughout.
    • Without the role of the paraplanners, Creative Wealth Management would simply not have achieved the success that we have to date.

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All figures correct as at 01.02.2018.