In the past, paraplanning was seen as a steppingstone to becoming a financial adviser. But the role has evolved in recent years - not every paraplanner wants to be an adviser now.

    We wanted to delve into it deeper. Who better to ask the Professional Adviser Paraplanner of the Year, Catherine Pappoe?

    First things first, what was your path to paraplanning?

    I started working part time as a cashier at Santander while I was at university, studying business management and accounting. When I progressed into a Personal Banking Adviser role, I realised I really liked financial advice – the idea of sitting with someone and having those in-depth discussions. I especially liked the idea that clients leave happier than when they came in.

    I thought about becoming an accountant, but you don’t get to interact with people as much as you do in an adviser role. This was a key driver for me. So, I spoke to a financial adviser about breaking into the industry and he recommended I leave the bank and work in a wealth management firm instead. I took his advice and found an administration role; at that time, my goal was still to become a financial adviser.

    When did your ambitions change?

    My ambitions changed when I moved to Dubai. I was still young, at 23, and was there for nearly four years. This gave me completely different outlook on financial advice: things are done differently there.

    I realised the part of the job I really enjoy is piecing everything together and presenting it neatly. For me, I find joy in helping people get from A to B. I like finding out what their objectives are, drilling down, understanding it, and working back through my research and recommendations to develop in-depth reports.

    Before leaving Dubai, I did some consulting for advisers who had started their own firms, helping them to set up templates, recommend back office systems and so on. This inspired me to look for similar role. I moved back to UK and, after Covid, realised I needed something new. That’s when I came across GSI.

    What does a day in your work-life look like?

    To be honest, there is no typical day in my job! I work with two other junior paraplanners to offer a range of support to our Business Manager. He does a lot of strategy and infrastructure, and we help in those areas as well. There’s sometimes a cross-over between operational paraplanning work and picking up the complex paraplanning cases, which keeps things varied.

    How do you see the perception of paraplanning evolving?

    I can already see things moving in a more positive direction in terms of how paraplanning is perceived. I was at a conference a couple of months ago and spoke to lots of paraplanners. Many don’t want to become advisers, even although in the past it was assumed to be the end goal.

    They realise there’s a lot more range to the job than there used to be. For people who really enjoy speaking to clients face-to-face, they would probably want to grow into the adviser role. However, I’ve come across paraplanners who are heavily involved in the client side and enjoy the slight cross over. There are also those who don’t want the exposure at all and prefer to be in the background. It really is a mixed bag.

    So yes, it's often seen as a steppingstone. But the role now offers a lot more flexibility - it’s not just about writing reports. There’s more research now and new tools for the business to use. You can still speak to clients and pick up new skills.

    As an internal paraplanner, what do you think of external paraplanning firms?

    I’ve sat on both sides, but see it as two completely different experiences. If you’re in house, naturally the role is more intuitive because you’re immersed in the way the team works.  

    When you work externally, you have to be more proactive when it comes to managing the expectations of the financial adviser you’re working with. You have to be clear on what you need and when.

    The biggest downfall with working as an outsourced paraplanner is that if I need to speak to the client directly, I'm limited and often can't. In-house you can, because you have that relationship. I’ve found that clients often enjoy that more – it’s  another touchpoint.

    And finally, what’s your firm’s approach to the requirements of the Consumer Duty?

    We got into it as soon as it was announced. We had made most of the changes already, which was lucky for us. For me, I just had to make sure we went the extra mile and were offering fair value and transparency to the best of our ability. It wasn’t about waiting until the deadline in July.

    We went through the business to examine what was involved – for example client communications, back office systems, and the whole client experience/process right from very beginning. We had a whole committee work on it which included paraplanners and an administrator all sitting together and working out the changes we could make.

    This process was really strategic. It all comes back down to ensuring clients leave happy – something I’ve been passionate about since my days at Santander.

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