The Paraplanners

Keeping up to date Tue 29 May 2012

Technical developments and how to stay up-to-date with them: one person’s guide.

On 24 May, I took part in a panel discussion at the IFP Paraplanner Conference. The discussion covered the differing experiences and perspectives of in-house and outsourced paraplanners. Before the event, my colleague at Paraplan Plus, Richard Allum, asked paraplanners to complete a short survey and submit any questions they'd like the panel to address. One of the submitted questions asked how paraplanners stay up to date with technical developments.

I think it's true to say that, for many paraplanners, when the pressure of day-to-day work means that something has got to give, Continuous Professional Development (CPD) is often the first thing to be pushed aside. Not because it’s considered unimportant or a low priority, but simply because it’s not necessarily as urgent as the other tasks we are working on.

This is understandable and I’m sure we’ve all been guilty of this. Nevertheless, I believe there is another, perhaps less onerous, way of looking at CPD and its role in our working day. 

A paraplanner’s role has many dimensions and producing a written report is simply the result of a combination of technical knowledge, strategic analysis and conversations with an adviser. So staying abreast of technical standards is part of the service we are required to provide to advisers. We concentrate on this, so that they can concentrate on what they do best. Without sufficient technical expertise the role of the paraplanner is reduced to data capture and copywriting; and while these are certainly essential parts of paraplanning, I’d hazard a (hopefully well-educated) guess that these aren’t the skills that advisers really value.  And personally speaking, they are not the only skills that I aim to offer.

I suspect you probably share my thoughts about paraplanning as a profession, but the question remains the same: how do I ensure my technical expertise is always up-to-date in a way that fits into my day?

Structure, sources and socialising

My response is that there is no easy answer to this but establishing objectives and structure helps.

Ideally, technical competence should be borne out of a defined learning plan. This should be updated annually in order to help you to set and record your learning goals for the following 12 months. These will be driven by the extent to which you believe qualifications are important to your professional and technical expertise. The IFP website is a useful resource, enabling you to record CPD as well as design learning plans and undertake gap-analysis.

Keeping up with technical developments can be done in two ways. Firstly, there’s the more formal route through qualifications which are commonly recognised. Then there is the day-to-day reading, listening and conversations that we can all undertake to stay abreast of the latest developments.

My personal belief is that paraplanners should aim to hold Chartered status and a CFP license. Obviously this means revising for and sitting a number of exams. It takes time and application but, in my opinion, it’s an investment that will pay off in the longer term. It’s a qualification that advisers recognise and acknowledge and, once achieved, paraplanners can then build on those qualifications through less formalised learning.

I try to attend local IFP branch meetings. As a home worker, not only do they offer a welcome break from the house, but I also enjoy listening to the speakers and catching up with colleagues and peers. The meetings often flag topics that I decide to investigate further through other means. They’re the home workers’ equivalent of the water cooler.

In addition, there is also the general coffee break (or tea and chocolate cake in my case) reading, listening and watching that I undertake on a daily basis.

Like many, I always make sure that I take a look at the industry press. With some careful sifting, many of the industry titles provide interesting nuggets of information; again prompting me to take a further look if it captures my interest.

I like to make the most of the information and knowledge available through a number of different industry websites. I’ve already mentioned the IFP as a good resource for CPD but it’s also helpful for updates. Amongst others, I also dip into Scottish Widows Techtalk and The Platforum.

Even though paraplanners are not regulated, advisers expect us to have an understanding of what’s happening in the industry from a regulatory perspective. So I like to make sure that I’m up to date on FSA guidance and papers. At this point, I’m willing to admit that this amounts to more than a coffee break activity but I find it’s worth the investment of time. The outcomes of these communications affect advisers’ businesses and how they are run, and, certainly as an outsourced paraplanner, advisers often ask our opinion on them. Research and reading of this sort allows me to feel confident discussing important industry-wide issues with advisers.

How can you make it work for you?

This approach won’t work for everyone but offers an insight into how I personally achieve my CPD requirements.

Making the time and gathering the will-power to keep up with my CPD requires a lot of discipline so I try to build it into my day, rather than adding it onto my day. I’ll always make time or work later to finish something for a client but I know I won’t start my professional development at 7pm once I’ve downed tools for the evening. For one thing, the call of the wine glass is too strong.

I am careful in my selection of seminars and workshops; and those which I choose to attend mean I have to book time out of my work diary.  As a result, I am in a position where I need to plan my workload around these ‘off-site’ commitments.  Psychologically, booking structured CPD sessions (rather than relying on my willpower to stop for an hour and do some reading) works much better for me.  These structured CPD sessions can be quite intense, and I am usually able to learn a lot in a short space of time.

I believe that CII exams are very worthwhile and a good source of CPD.  The issue can be that not every business will allow you to study during work time. I frequently spend 2-3 lunchtimes a week carrying out CII exam revision and reading.  Even if it's just half an hour, it is still a worthwhile input of your time because your career will ultimately benefit from it.

It may be stating the obvious, but don't under-estimate how much of your job already involves and contributes towards your CPD.  Paraplanners already spend much of their time conducting research for client cases, which involves technical reading and analysis.  Try to make sure you record all these cases - you've probably contributed a lot more towards your CPD this year than you realise.

The demands of your role and your personal ambitions will drive how much you decide to invest in CPD. I’ve found that ploughing some time and energy into deciding how I’m going to achieve the CPD outcomes I want has been worthwhile, and I enjoy the opportunities this has opened up for me and the professionalism with which I’m able to develop my career. 

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