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The professional paraplanner

Jamie Drewett
Jamie Drewett
Head of Intermediary Sales, Scottish Widows
  • Paraplanners are increasingly looking to progress within their own, distinct profession.
  • Paraplanners are well recognised within the industry, albeit not yet fully appreciated by clients.
  • More work needs to be done to define and standardise the paraplanning role.

Paraplanners are cementing their position as a key value driver within advice firms

There has never been a better time to be a paraplanner. The role has continued to evolve, steadily consolidating its position at the heart of the advice value chain. And, contrary to the traditional notion that a paraplanning position was merely a step towards an advisory role, paraplanners are increasingly finding career development, recognition and reward within their own profession.

Only 18% of paraplanners see themselves moving into a financial adviser role in the next five years, with an overwhelming 69% progressing either within their current role or taking on a team leader position.

This departure from what was once seen as a career path for paraplanners is supported by strong levels of recognition from those within the industry. A 70% majority of paraplanners say they believe that their contribution is seen as ‘essential’ by the advisers they work with and only 14% said it was seen as an ‘administrative’ role. In a similar vein, 81% of paraplanners believe that their firms value paraplanning more highly now than in the past.

Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?

How important are the following in your working relationship with your adviser?

Adviser relationships are stronger than ever. Nearly nine in ten (89%) agree their working relationship with advisers is positive, a slight uptick from last year’s 85% result. And over half of paraplanners report that their relationship with advisers is excellent. Paraplanners in smaller firms (<£100m in AUM) are most likely to describe their adviser relationships as excellent.

Digging down a little further, we can see what paraplanners believe constitutes a good adviser relationship. Good communication (83%) comes out on top followed by mutual respect (77%), being open to discussion (70%), and being open to challenge (65%).

This result suggests paraplanners most value the opportunity for their professional opinions to be heard. Reassuringly, our survey finds this is the case, since 91% of paraplanners feel they can challenge their advisers’ recommendations (rising to 94% for the most experienced paraplanners).

There is still some progress to be made. While paraplanners are well regarded within their own firms, 40% report that their work is not always appreciated by clients (versus 39% last year). This might be a reflection of the often more behind-the-scenes nature of paraplanning, with client contact typically via video conferencing, phone and email but, equally, there seems to be scope for advisers to clarify the value their paraplanners add.

Paraplanning beyond the advice office

Lack of public understanding about the role is frequently cited as an annoyance by paraplanners. A key step in building recognition with clients and people outside the advice industry may be a clearer definition of what a paraplanner really is. A 71% majority of those surveyed say they want an industry-approved definition of their role, to enhance legitimacy in the eyes of clients and advisers. Meanwhile, 62% agree that an industry-approved qualification would help improve standards across the profession.

Do you feel the roll of paraplanner is appreciated by clients? (Excluding those who do not have contact with clients)

How strongly do you agree?

Limited understanding of the role from outside the industry requires a proactive approach. Yet, 71% of paraplanners said that none of the firms they have worked for were involved in promoting paraplanning as a career option for school leavers or graduates. This is despite the fact it can be a attractive career choice. 73% of paraplanners believe that it is a career that presents “greater flexibility to achieve a work-life balance, or meet caring responsibilities, compared to other professions.”

Paraplanners for their part remain very confident about the future of their industry. A striking 86% majority are confident both about the future of paraplanning and the financial advice market overall, while a 79% majority are confident about their own future within paraplanning.

Analysis

...advice firms depend on and value their paraplanners more than ever...

Our survey reveals that advice firms depend on and value their paraplanners more than ever, as they increase their value add across the advice process. This is something that is readily borne out by our regular engagement with the paraplanners. There are still a few areas for improvement, both in the recognition paraplanners get from clients and in the wider understanding of the role outside the industry.

More can be done to promote the flexibility that the role offers, and the fact that some of the leading advice firms run academy and mentoring programmes. The career path of paraplanners is often dependent on where the firm, and paraplanner, decides they can add the most value. Greater clarity around the role and ‘gold standard’ qualifications would help to build its wider profile and secure a quality pipeline of new entrants.