Meet the FPA’s Ambassador for paraplanning

26 October 2021

Money & Life team

Money & Life contributors draw on their diverse range of experience to present you with insights and guidance that will help you manage your financial wellbeing, achieve your lifestyle goals and plan for your financial future.

Kate Fellows is director of The Professional Paraplanner, and provides education, content and consulting services to paraplanning and advice practices in the financial planning sector. Here she shares her insights into the latest trends and opportunities in paraplanning.

As the FPA’s Ambassador for paraplanning, Kate is passionate about sharing her wisdom and experience in the field to showcase the valuable role paraplanners play in the advice process. Her insights and knowledge will also help guide current and future paraplanners on how to excel when embarking on this rewarding career path. After spending a significant part of her career in corporate and advice roles, Kate made the move into paraplanning and hasn’t looked back.

A natural problem solver, she saw an opportunity to offer outsourced paraplanning services to fill a gap in the industry.

“Setting up the outsourced paraplanning business was a way to solve problems for advisers who couldn’t necessarily afford to have a full-time paraplanner on staff,” she says.

Since launching her first paraplanning business in 2007, Kate has witnessed significant changes in the sector. She feels the relationship between paraplanners and financial planners has changed in recent years.

“When I first set up a paraplanning business, we were instruction takers,” she says. “What we want to see, and what we’re seeing now, is more paraplanners stepping up as peers.”

Kate is a strong advocate for elevating the professionalism of the paraplanning community. She believes paraplanners have a wide range of skills to offer.

“Part of what I’ve seen as my role over the last few years, is to raise the profile of paraplanners as professionals and get that relationship to more of a collaboration,” she says.

Paraplanning skills a good match

With decades of experience consulting to the financial planning sector under her belt, Kate has a good understanding of the challenges financial planning firms are now facing.

As the industry transforms in the wake of the Hayne Royal Commission, many firms are battling a perfect storm of rising costs, increased compliance and education requirements and technology transformation. In Kate’s view paraplanners are well positioned to help support firms through the current headwinds.

“We all know that planners are under extraordinary pressure right now, and that they’ve got more and more things to do in their day, every day,” she says. “The paraplanner is perfectly positioned to be their peer and to help them with the technical side of the advice business.”

Creating efficiencies through technology

One way paraplanners can help is by improving the efficiency of the advice production process.

“Saving one or two days for each client, if you can pull that out of your process and save that each time, can mean saving thousands of dollars,” Kate says. “But not just that, it creates time for the paraplanner, the client services officer or the financial planner to be doing other things that are more valuable to the client.”

Kate also believes paraplanners have a role to play in helping firms embrace and implement new technologies.

“The paraplanner tends to be the office tech champion and that’s because they use the software the most,” she says. “They use it from a CRM point of view, they’re using it for research and modeling and also the document creation.”

With technology driving further changes across the sector, Kate says it’s only a matter of time before firms are able to provide a more digital statement of advice (SOA) experience for clients.

“I think within the next few years we will have a digital SOA. Now, whether that’s an online document, or a complete digital experience such as an app with an audit trail of the advice given, it’s a big thing to move away from that written document even if it’s in an electronic form. Many of the software vendors out there are looking at this, so it’s not too far away.”

The Financial Planning Association (FPA) is also championing this change and recently released a guide designed to help firms embrace digital and communications technology that will improve the client experience of receiving advice. It challenges financial planners to look beyond the written, paper-based format of an SOA, in order to make advice more engaging and personalised. This also creates significant time and cost efficiencies for a business.

Education for paraplanners

While the government has taken steps to revise the education standards required for licensed financial planners, there are still no mandated educational requirements to be a paraplanner.

Kate believes it’s essential for paraplanners to have the technical knowledge that comes from formal qualifications. Many paraplanners already hold an undergraduate or Master’s degree in their field, giving them strong technical foundations. The FPA has also seen more interest from paraplanners in the professionalisation of their role and has expanded the CFP® certification program in response to their needs. The changes allow degree qualified individuals who are in support roles, but not advice practitioners, to become CFP® professionals.

It’s the practical experience, however, that takes a paraplanner from good to great. Kate says most financial planning qualifications don’t teach the real-world aspects required in paraplanning. It’s a gap she’s trying to fill by offering practical skills-based training in the form of e-modules.

“What I’ve brought to the industry is more practical training around how to produce a compliant Statement of Advice,how do research and model the advice and how to use software to produce the advice.” she says. “It’s the practical aspect of the role that’s not really taught in formal financial planning qualifications.”

In her view, standalone modules like these will allow paraplanners to fill in the knowledge and skills gaps that can arise throughout their career, or to hone in on specialisations such as insurance or superannuation.

“What I’ve tried to do in putting together my education modules is to allow an experienced paraplanner to pick up the different knowledge gaps they have, and just complete those modules.”

Career progression

Kate says demand for good paraplanners remains high. “There’s never enough paraplanners, and that’s still the case… for the good paraplanners out there and the good paraplanning businesses, there’s always enough work and they can always take on new paraplanners.”

For anyone looking to enter the industry, she believes paraplanning offers a range of diverse career opportunities. From an in-house practice to remote contracting, paraplanning positions can offer a lot of flexibility and provide several pathways to seniority and associated roles.

“There are lots of career opportunities for a paraplanner. It could be a senior role, a team leader, a manager… or into a technical position… or it might be stepping into more of a compliance role. Or there’s still the pathway to becoming an advisor, if that’s what you choose to do.”

Kate knows that many paraplanners are considering becoming a financial planner, noting that, “they’re very different skillsets: someone who is client facing, versus someone who’s sitting in the background doing the analytical work. It’s important to think about what your strengths are as to which direction you take.”

So where should aspiring paraplanners start? Kate recommends gaining experience within a financial planning practice first.

“You need to see the advice process, how the advice team interacts with the client and the sorts of challenges that come up for clients. Even just the documentation. There’s so much paperwork, [so it’s important] just to see the flow of all of that information and how it works for the client. I think that’s critical to paraplanners having a well-rounded skillset, especially if they move into contracting.”

There are also opportunities for graduate paraplanners to join some of the larger paraplanning practices.

“Some of those businesses are doing wonderful things, not just in paraplanning, but in technology as well. So, you could learn across a broader skill set to get access to more opportunities.”

Kate is positive about the strong and growing paraplanning community in Australia. Peer groups such as the Paraplanner Hub (Facebook), and professional associations such as the FPA, will help current and aspiring paraplanners build their all-important networks. These knowledge-sharing communities are also key sources of contacts, working tips, and peer-to-peer education.

As the financial planning sector continues to evolve its professional standards, ethics and training requirements, paraplanners are likely to see increasing opportunities for education, technological advancement, and recognition as professionals in their own right. Kate is committed to increasing the professionalism of the paraplanning community, and says she’ll continue to advocate for as long as it takes.

If you want to hear more on the latest updates in paraplanning, listen out for the upcoming paraplanning podcast series produced by the FPA. The series is designed to be a forum for paraplanning professionals to delve deeper into the important issues facing the profession and engage with experts on the topics that matter.

 

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