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How to Grow A Dream Paraplanner Team – It’s all about the culture!

This article was commissioned by Professional Paraplanning Magazine
September 2015

As far back as 2001, Greystone Financial Services had recognised that a deep pool of technical expertise would be needed in order to best serve the interests of its clients in the future.

That pool of expertise was realistically beyond the scope of any single adviser, it really required someone whose career was devoted to technical analysis and research, as opposed to managing client relationships; only when the two combined would you be able to genuinely offer the best possible client experience. This was the driver behind the development of the paraplanning function at Greystone, and the growth of paraplanning as a profession in recent years has certainly endorsed that earlier view. Those immersed in the industry will already be aware that the implementation of the RDR has, among other things, meant a high rise in demand for those with the technical knowledge to assist with the complex reports required today by Financial Advisers. It therefore intrigued me as to why it was that the three most senior and long-serving members of Greystone Financial Services paraplanning team stayed loyal to their company, so I decided to ask them.

The dedicated Greystone Paraplanning Team was set up 14 years ago and one important factor is that it has always been respected by management as a specialised, professional body of staff, rather than simply seen as general support for the Financial Adviser Team. The firm itself was founded – and is still managed today – by Consultant Advisers, alongside those with an in depth knowledge of the financial sector, all of whom appreciate the value of having a highly qualified Paraplanner at their side.

Culture of Equality

Three of the senior Paraplanners agreed to talk to me about their role at Greystone, which is specifically tailored to marry with the ‘people ethos’ of the company:

‘All equal; All valued’.

Georgina was one of the first members to join the Paraplanner Team having joined originally as a PA back in 2001 and promoted to Paraplanner in 2006.

“I’ve been working at Greystone for 14 years now,” she tells me, “and of course I’ve looked elsewhere from time to time, but nothing has come close to the professionalism expected by Greystone. This is really important to me; I regularly set my own benchmarks and then break them. I’m personally driven to strive to be the best I can be.”

She continued: “I always want to deliver top quality reports for my advisers and their clients; it’s just part of my nature to give everything I have, and because I know those I work for appreciate it, I give 100%.

Another big personal plus is the built in flexibility and support the firm offers, which certainly helps when you have a family; without this I simply wouldn’t be able to stay.”

 Alex Bothwell Greystone

Alex Bothwell

There are currently 10 Paraplanner roles at Greystone, along with four members of staff supporting the report writing and who make up the Financial Technical Team. In an effort to ensure that the firm continues to meet its high professional standards, a Paraplanner Development Plan was designed and introduced by Head of Risk, Alex Bothwell – who leads the Team – for ambitious staff at the firm who wish to progress to full Paraplanner status.

Pilot Scheme

Sean (featured in the main image), who joined Greystone in 2013, piloted the entry role assisting the Paraplanners with their daily tasks, learning how to compile company reports, illustrations, and factsheets, to gain a deep understanding of what will be required in the future as he transitions into a full paraplanning role. Formerly working for DeVere in Marbella, which offers financial adviser services to expats in sales of investments, Sean was primarily responsible for organising client meetings, but he felt he wanted to progress professionally within the industry.

“I’d heard of Greystone Financial Services”, he explains, “and so one of the big attractions for me was the fact that it is one of the largest independent firms in the UK, and had an excellent reputation in the sector.

After just 12 months I am delighted to have already completed my Diploma in Regulated Financial Planning having received great support from the rest of the team. The fact that the company paid the fees, provided the textbooks and gave me time out to ensure I could prepare for my exams, illustrates their commitment to our continuous professional progression.”

Alex used Sean’s experience to establish a formal Technical Development Plan beginning at entry level and taking them through to Chartered Paraplanner. Alex commented:

“It’s well known by all in the sector that there is a shortage of high quality paraplanners in the market at present." said Alex. "We strive at Greystone to ensure that our paraplanners have everything they need to deliver the high standards we require of them, but this in turn has made it even harder to recruit at direct entry level. As a result, we have certainly come to recognise the real benefits of training our own staff to the Greystone standard and the programme we devised was based on Sean’s experience.

An Assistant’s work involves helping the paraplanners with all the basic tasks they typically had to do themselves in the past, freeing up their time to concentrate on the more complex tasks needed, making full use of their skills and expertise.

We now have four Assistants who train for around 12-18 months reaching a point where they are able to write technical reports. After this period, an Assistant would then be classed as a Trainee Paraplanner for 6-12 months before going on to become a Paraplanner. From this we progress them into a Senior Paraplanner role, where we will develop their responsibilities and enable them to set their own objectives in order to tailor their work to meet their advisers’ needs.

For now we are aiming for all our qualified paraplanners to hold Chartered status; Diploma is the minimum we require to meet the Greystone paraplanner standard but it would not surprise me if at some point paraplanners, like financial advisers, become regulated."

 Greystone Senior Paraplanner Vicky Anderson

Vicky Anderson

Sean’s mentor, Paraplanner Manager Vicky, also commented on the introduction of the Plan:

“The introduction of a formal Development Plan will help maintain the quality of our report writing in the future. The whole team is focused on becoming chartered with our goal always to produce high-level technical reports to the ‘Greystone standard’. We are lucky we have Financial Planning Assistants and researchers who manage the administrative tasks – traditionally part of the paraplanning role in other firms – so that we can concentrate on continually expanding our knowledge."

Good Working Relationship

"Another bonus is the fact that our reports are non-prescriptive in that we are very much left to our own devices. We do have a template, but are able to highly personalize them to tailor the style to marry with each of our individual advisers, and our level of expertise means we can make suggestions and discuss the content of the report with our advisers. In fact, this is actively encouraged, and as long as we can justify our opinions then there is no issue and the advisers really appreciate our input."

Denise, another of the Paraplanner Managers, agreed:

“The relationship between paraplanner and adviser is important as we have to be able to predict their needs and ensure we meet them. I agree that the fact there is minimal administration work involved in our roles is great – Greystone is large enough to have the full range of support for their financial advisers so that we can just concentrate on the technical side.

Paraplanners now have to be much more qualified than in the past, Vicky continued, “and as Sean says, an additional bonus is the fact that as well as a day off for the exam, we are also given study leave either side of the exam itself which is such a plus, alongside paying for exams and any books we need to support our learning. In addition, we also have regular in-house training from the financial providers, independent learning never stands still at Greystone.”

“That’s true”, Georgina added, “we all strive towards gaining our professional qualifications and chummy up to give each other support with study sessions – pooling the knowledge. The Greystone culture has grown from the fact that we are all regarded as equals– all an equally important part of what makes our service work. Even the senior management team work in open plan offices; there is no perceived hierarchy in terms of accessibility – it’s open door simply because there are no doors!”

Denise summed up by saying: “Our real strength is the fact that we are such a close knit team – all appreciating each other – all sharing common ground. It works well!”

Alongside the Paraplanners, Financial Advisers at Greystone have support from a Financial Planning Assistant and a New Business Administrator to assist them; this means they can spend valuable time with their clients – helping them make and manage important financial decisions. Senior Consultant, Claire Finch, summed up the role of a Paraplanner from her perspective saying:

"My paraplanner has freed up so much of my time by helping me to prepare the complex reports now required by the FCA. We form close relationships with our clients and strive to give the best possible service; just knowing I can trust my paraplanner to deliver high quality technical reports for them is very much appreciated." 

You can read the original article online here

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