Financial Planning

Outside the comfort zone

01 February 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.

As the 2020 FPA Paraplanner of the Year Award winner, Emma Zwaan AFP® is seeking to turn the spotlight on the important role paraplanners play in the financial planning process.

Name: Emma Zwaan AFP®

Educational qualifications: MFinPlan, BAcc, DFP

Position: Associate Adviser

Practice: Capital Partners Private Wealth Advisers (WA)

Licensee: Capital Partners Private Wealth Advisers (WA)

Years as a paraplanner: 3.5 years

There’s no denying that Capital Partners Private Wealth Advisers (WA) has a winning air about it. The Perth-based practice has recently racked-up an enviable record of notable awards, including the FPA Professional Practice of the Year Award in 2017 and 2019, with the practice’s Michael Hayward CFP® taking out the prestigious FPA CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER® Professional of the Year Award in 2017.

But the winning streak doesn’t end there for Capital Partners, with the 2018 FPA Paraplanner of the Year finalist, Emma Zwaan AFP®, taking out the 2020 FPA Paraplanner of the Year Award. It’s an achievement not lost of Emma, who attributes her success to the high professional standards set at Capital Partners.

“I’ve had incredible support and encouragement working here at Capital Partners, both with my professional development and my ongoing education as a financial planner,” Emma says. “I also attribute my success to challenging my growth mindset, whether that’s with education and training, or developing my skillsets. It’s something that Capital Partners has strongly encouraged.”

Emma’s approach to challenging her growth mindset involves ensuring she constantly pushes herself outside her comfort zone. This involves taking on new responsibilities within the business, including training and mentoring less experienced planners coming through the ranks, as well as taking on continuing education to meet her own professional requirements.

Most recently, Emma has taken on a mentoring role with Capital Partners’ Professional Year Program, as well as the business’s internship program, which is run in conjunction with Curtin University.

“As part of the course work for its financial planning degree, Curtin University has a Financial Planning Internship unit. This requires the interns to receive 120 hours of supervised learning in the workplace, allowing them to experience what we do on a daily basis.”

In September 2020, Capital Partners received its first two interns. Emma was involved in mentoring, coaching and supervising these two students. She adds that the experience was as beneficial to her, as it was to her mentees.

“I’m not sure who learnt more, the students or me,” she jokes. “Capital Partners takes education and professional development very seriously. The business has an enormous capacity to share, so just as I learn from those planners who are more experienced than me, I am happy to pass on that knowledge to those who are less experienced. By doing so, it’s amazing how much you actually learn yourself.”

A critical role

As the 2020 recipient of the FPA Paraplanner of the Year Award, Emma has her sights set on raising the profile of paraplanning and the essential role of paraplanners in the overall financial planning process. And the first step, she says, is to remove the misconceptions surrounding paraplanning.

“The process of paraplanning is a critical part of providing sound advice that is clear and concise, and right for the client. However, I think there is still a push to outsource paraplanning within the profession, because there is a general belief that paraplanning is just about writing an SOA based on the instructions from a planner,” she says.

Instead, Emma believes paraplanners are seriously underestimated in the overall financial planning process, and she would like to see the profession place greater emphasis on its importance.

“The profession needs to view paraplanners as an extension of the practitioners they work with. As a paraplanner, it’s our role to not just write the advice but to ensure that the advice is technically sound, that risks associated with the advice are clearly identified, and the advice is in the client’s best interest. By doing so, the client can make a fully informed decision on how they want to proceed with the advice,” she says.

“Without paraplanners, financial planners simply can’t do their jobs as efficiently, compliantly and effectively.”

It’s a view supported by the FPA Awards judges. In awarding Emma with the 2020 FPA Paraplanner of the Year Award, the judges remarked on Emma’s SOA submission, which showed her ability to adapt the communication style towards the client’s situation and articulate how the client is put in a a better position as a result of the advice. The judges were also impressed by how well Emma demonstrated her technical, research and strategy skills as part of the overall paraplanning process.

Aspiring paraplanners

While Emma is delighted to see the FPA Awards recognising the important work paraplanners do in the profession, she firmly believes that a role in paraplanning is an essential first step for any person wanting to become a financial planner. She also adds that paraplanning can be a fulfilling and rewarding career in its own right, particularly suited for those professionals who do not want to take on a client-facing role.

Her advice for any person aspiring to join the profession, and particularly looking at a career as a paraplanner, is to first talk to other paraplanners about the opportunities and challenges of paraplanning, and then to find a business that will help support and encourage their growth as a paraplanner.

“I also encourage people to challenge their growth mindset. Continue to educate yourself and keep up-to-date with regulation. Constantly look for ways to stretch your capability, and don’t be afraid to test what planners say to you,” Emma says. “Remember, paraplanning is not just about taking instructions and turning around a document. The technical and strategy skills you develop as a paraplanner are very valuable tools, so harness those skills when writing advice.

“Paraplanning is about applying your skills, knowledge and expertise to ensure the advice you provide is in the best interests of the client.”

Take time to reflect

With one unit left before completing the CFP® Certification Program, Emma is firmly committed to developing her career as a financial planner. She says this was always her goal when she first started out as a paraplanner, and has since used her paraplanning experience to develop and hone her financial planning skills.

“This means when I finally do become a practitioner, I have a very solid foundation for providing advice to clients.”

And while her future aspirations are firmly set on obtaining the CFP® designation and eventually moving into a client-facing financial planning role, Emma will continue to rely on the same advice that has stood her in good stead throughout her career: allow yourself time to reflect.

“Taking the time to reflect provides you with a great opportunity to review and consider what you’ve done, what you could have done better, and how you need to improve going forward,” she says.

“Having time to reflect allows you to reset, refocus and recalibrate on what’s next, like your goals. This has been a significant tool that has had a beneficial impact on the growth of my career over a number of years.”

It’s sound advice, which Emmas says can apply to all aspects of life, both personally and professionally.


FPA Paraplanner of the Year Award


Emma Zwaan AFP® – Capital Partners Private Wealth Advisers (WA)


Chris O’Shea – Tupicoffs (Qld)

Daniel Ryan – Cooper Wealth Management (Qld)