Profile image of Sam Patterson Paraplanner.
Profile image of Sam Patterson Paraplanner.


Sam is a consultant and Head of Mentoring at the Paraplanner Club, a free mentoring scheme for paraplanners around the country who want to develop their career. Through consulting at a wide variety of financial advisory firms and mentoring paraplanners at all stages of their career, Sam has built up an expansive view of the current state of the paraplanning profession.

We asked him to share his insight through a series of short interviews, with this first instalment focussing on the biggest challenges facing paraplanners right now and how the role is evolving.

Sam, thanks for joining us. Tell us, what is the paraplanner club all about and why did you become a part of it?

I spent a few years in various paraplanning and client management roles and, when I left to become a consultant, I knew I was going to miss the personal touch; being able to see the impact of my work first-hand.

I think back to times in my career, when I was struggling with an exam or with my work-life balance, and I know that I could have really used some honest, impartial support. That’s exactly what the Paraplanner Club delivers and that’s why I got in touch and ultimately became their Head of Mentoring. I loved their values and ethos from the beginning.

In the past, you’ve labelled paraplanners as ‘the cog that keeps the machine going’. How is paraplanning seen now as a career, inside and outside of the industry?

There are two very distinct answers here. Inside the industry, paraplanners are certainly seen as the cog that keeps the machine going. Anyone working in financial services, from financial planners to the admin team, can see how vital paraplanners are. It’s difficult to miss the value they add. Ten years ago, those same people might have described paraplanners as report writers, but now they’re generally seen as crucial in ensuring we get the right outcomes for clients.

Outside of the industry, however, it’s a very different story. When I first started out and I’d tell my friends I was a paraplanner, they would universally respond with ‘what’s that then?’ I would end up asking if they’d ever watched the TV show ‘Suits’. I’d tell them I was basically Megan Markle in that show, but for financial advisers. We’re the ones that do all the groundwork and get all the information advisers need in order to present to, and advise, clients. I still have to explain the role now.

There was a stat in last year’s Embark Paraplanner Survey Report that said 88% of paraplanners agreed that they got the right amount of recognition from their advisers, but only 29% of them felt that they got the same recognition from clients. ¹ So people outside the industry still don’t understand the role.

I think that has a major impact on the recruitment of paraplanners. There isn’t a firm out there that’s overstaffed in the paraplanning department. There’s a lot of pressure and responsibility that comes with the job and if you’re not being recognised and appreciated outside the industry, this can lead potential paraplanners to look elsewhere.

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"I’d tell them I was basically Megan Markle in that show, but for financial advisers."

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You mentioned that ten years ago people would have described paraplanners differently. Would you say the role is evolving then?

Certainly. We’ve gotten to a stage now where every paraplanner has a slightly different job description. This is because paraplanners are in the ideal place to add value in a number of different ways, depending on how they, and their firm, want to develop their skill set.

I consulted for a firm recently where a financial adviser, who wanted to retire, was looking for a new adviser to take over his client book. He couldn’t find quite the right fit; someone that could take on those 30–40-year relationships he’d built up. We suggested upskilling one or two of the paraplanners and letting them take on the ongoing communications, suitability, etc. In the end, the adviser kept his firm, cut back to doing a few face-to-face meetings, two days a week, and his paraplanners were able to maintain the rest of the business.

It just goes to show that you don’t need to become an adviser to take on more client responsibility. You can develop in the aspects you want, while avoiding the parts that don’t suit you.

It sounds like there are a lot of opportunities, but what would you say are the biggest challenges facing paraplanners right now?

Ask anyone in a financial advisory role what their biggest challenge is right now and ninety percent of them will answer ‘workload’. Market volatility, combined with the associated sensationalist news headlines, is driving clients to demand more from their advisers, and this ultimately filters down to the paraplanners. I’ve seen this from both consulting and mentoring. Paraplanners are facing heavy workloads and sometimes need extra support, particularly developing the techniques needed to deal with increased pressure.

The second biggest challenge right now is uncertainty. It’s a huge weight on paraplanners’ minds. I heard a stat at a conference the other day, stating that three-quarters of advisers are planning on retiring or otherwise leaving the profession in the next 10 years², and this is something that’s been talked about in the industry for a while now. Hargreaves Lansdown have just launched a chartered financial planning arm, which may be a future trend or may not, and we’re seeing artificial intelligence begin to make waves in the industry. All of this shows that the industry is going to evolve a lot in the coming years and what this means for paraplanners is still unclear.

Thanks Sam, there’s quite a lot to digest there in terms of what it means to be a paraplanner right now. Next time we’ll take a closer look at how technology and the incorporation of AI are impacting the paraplanning profession.

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Sam is the Director of The Patterson Group, which offers specialist CII exam support and a range of consultancy services to those in the financial services profession, both individuals and firms. Sam is also a Director and Head of Mentoring at The Paraplanner Club, which is a free mentoring scheme for paraplanners nationwide who wish to develop their careers.


Missed the second interview with Sam? Click here to read it now.


Read the latest interview with Sam. Click here to read it now.