* Please note that Kearsten was working at Sterling Private Wealth when she was judged for this award. At the time of the judging process, Kearsten was working as a paraplanner.
At first glance, you might be forgiven for thinking that any planner with the CFP®, Life Risk Specialist® and Accredited Aged Care ProfessionalTM designations under their belt might be a little overqualified to be a paraplanner. But it’s a view not supported by the 2018 FPA Paraplanner of the Year, Kearsten James CFP® LRS®.
“In 2008, I was trying to become a financial planner working at Tupicoffs. I already had my degree, so it was around this time that I was ramping up all my extra studies. This included undertaking the CFP® Certification Program, and a couple of years later, I obtained the LRS® designation.
“So, at that time, I was in an Associate planner role. I spent about five years in this client-facing financial planning role. However, when I had my son five years ago, I made the lifestyle choice to step into a senior paraplanning role, because that was something I could do part-time. This also gave me the flexibility to do some work from home.”
Kearsten attributes much of her current expertise and achievements to the 11 years she worked under Neil Kendall’s supervision at Tupicoffs in Brisbane, where Neil also mentored her during this time.
Although Kearsten agrees she could possibly have been the most overqualified paraplanner in the industry at the time of the awards, she believes the skills gained by working as an Associate planner, in addition to her CFP® and LRS® studies, meant her paraplanning capabilities were extremely well honed.
It was a view supported by the FPA Award judges who, commenting on Kearsten’s award application (submitted during the 10 months she was working at Sterling Private Wealth as a senior paraplanner in 2018), said that not only was her advice well written and thought out, but the depth of research done on the issues and the notes around it, made it an outstanding entry.
Ready to give back
Kearsten views her education and technical achievements as part of the course of being “at the top of your game” when it comes to delivering advice solutions to clients.
In fact, the 35-year-old is no stranger to winning the odd award, having also picked up the Money Management Paraplanner Award in 2016. So, with fire in her belly, she finally felt the timing was right to enter the 2018 FPA Awards.
“To win the FPA award is something I really wanted to achieve, as the quality of my work is what is being judged, rather than simply the quality of my resume,” she says. “The judges are actually peer reviewing the work I have done. It’s a wonderful achievement to be recognised by my peers for the work I do.”
However, awards don’t actually figure too highly on Kearsten’s list of priorities. Instead, she is more focused on imparting her knowledge and experience on the next generation of planners. She does this through mentoring university students.
“I am using my experience and the time spent in the profession to mentor university students. I’ve also done some lecturing and tutoring at Griffith University because I want to pass on the values that I have in financial planning, which is all about making a meaningful and positive difference in the lives of clients,” she says.
“So, while I can help a client individually by writing great advice for them, I can help the broader community by teaching the next generation of planners to do financial planning well.”
So, what does winning the FPA Paraplanner of the Year Award really mean to Kearsten?
For one thing, it’s recognition for the many years of hard work and dedication she has put into her role as a paraplanner.
“I have always prided myself on formulating good advice and providing the right advice to clients, while also being able to demonstrate this advice in a meaningful way to clients.”
This award also provides this confident individual with additional credibility as a professional, particularly now she has assumed an advisory role at Cooper Wealth Management.
“Awards that come from your peers can only build upon your professional credibility, and they’re something that clients can easily relate to. An award, like the FPA Paraplanner of the Year Award, enables you to gain additional respect from your clients and provide them with the added reassurance that they are working with someone who is at the peak of their profession.”
A role that adds value
While Kearsten may now be in a CFP® advisory role at Cooper Wealth Management, she still emphasises the importance of paraplanning in the overall financial planning process.
“Obviously, the paraplanning process provides the checks and balances that are absolutely essential in the provision of financial planning advice,” she says. “When you have to actually document what the advice is, the basis for your advice, why the advice is appropriate and what the risks are, to cover off on all these areas is absolutely essential. Paraplanning is all about checks and balances, and the appropriateness of the advice.
“It’s also about making sure the clients are put in a position of power to make an educated decision as to whether to accept the advice. Therefore, creating advice that is clear, concise and effective is not only a legal requirement, but important in the process of empowering the clients.”
However, having only recently come from a paraplanning role, Kearsten believes the profession still doesn’t place enough emphasis on the importance of paraplanning.
“I believe there is a push towards outsourcing paraplanning offshore because for some people, the paraplanning role is simply about somebody typing up a recommendation or compliance document. But there’s a lot more to paraplanning than this. Paraplanners add tremendous value to the overall financial planning process.
“So, I see an SOA as a document that provides certainty and clarity, and illustrates to the client that you have taken into account all of their circumstances and have tailored the advice specifically to them. An SOA is a very valuable tool if used appropriately. If people disregard it as just a compliance document, then there’s no value to the SOA whatsoever.”
A valuable stepping stone
As a mentor and tutor to aspiring professionals, and someone who its supremely passionate about her profession, Kearsten is not left short when it comes to offering valuable advice to individuals aspiring to join the profession, particularly starting off as a paraplanner.
“I tell people that paraplanning can be used as a stepping stone to a career as a financial planner. It’s an exceptional way of gaining the necessary technical skills, strategies, education and expertise for a career in financial planning,” she says.
“But I also believe paraplanning can be a rewarding career in itself, particularly for someone who is details driven and analytical. Either way, paraplanning is an essential cog of the overall financial planning process.”
The FPA congratulates the runners-up of the FPA Paraplanner of the Year Award: