Life as an outsourced paraplanner

A few days ago, I replied to a question on IFA Life asking for experiences of paraplanners who work from home and what it’s like to work with remote paraplanners.

I decided to answer because I’ve recently made the move from in-house paraplanning to outsourced and now work for Paraplan Plus and felt that this type of question deserved a full and open answer. Richard asked me to consider expanding on this topic for his blog so here we go.

I’ve been a paraplanner for about 10 years and am both Chartered and Certified.  I would like to think that I’m reasonably good at what I do but, despite this experience, the move into the outsourced paraplanning world has opened my eyes to a very different way of working and is challenging me to think differently. This is no bad thing. In fact, having made the move, I doubt I’ll ever want to return to being an in-house paraplanner. Don’t get me wrong. Working in-house was a great experience but, for me, it was time to challenge myself in a different way.

So what’s it like to work as an outsourced paraplanner?

Like any way of working, there are benefits and drawbacks but a lot of it depends on your individual preferences.

I’m involved in a greater variety of work than ever before in my career. One minute I’ll be working on an investment into a Standard Life wrap account. The next minute, I’ll be looking into pension transfers, the next a full financial plan with cashflows. Not only is the variety greater but you never know what’s going to come in next so every day is different.

Working with a number of advisers from different firms gives you a very broad understanding of what’s going on out there in the industry. From my experience so far, the kind of advisers who outsource their work are often well established and well qualified individuals, doing high-end work with their clients. You need to be able to support this and that means that you are always seeking to expand your knowledge. If you thrive on investigation and analysis, then this will suit you perfectly.

Everything is paperless. At least that’s my experience of working at Paraplan Plus. Working with two to three screens at once is common and, believe it or not, this is a lot easier than wading through, or indeed storing, reams of paper.

Most importantly, your career and development is firmly in your own hands. It’s not controlled by the company you work for. The reason outsourcing works for me is that I can go as far as I want.  The more I learn, the more in demand I am – and the more interesting and challenging the work I do.

But it’s not all a bed of roses

When considering the step into outsourced paraplanning, it’s important to be aware of some of the changes that may be challenging.

It takes much longer to establish working relationships with people, because you spend very little face-to-face time with them.  Video calling through Skype helps a lot and, when working from home, it makes a real difference when you spend 9 hours a day, 5 days a week, working on your own. It doesn’t replace sitting in a room with someone though, and I do miss this.

Advisers don’t tend to outsource easy reports.  They outsource the kind of work which is complicated, time-consuming, and that can’t be done easily in-house. I receive a steady stream of more complex projects. Now, the simple stuff is more of a rarity and, at times, a welcome relief! If, like me, you enjoy working on complex projects then there should be very little to complain about but I challenge anyone to not be a little bit mentally exhausted by 5.30pm.

When you move to the outsourced paraplanning world, you suddenly realise that life and investment companies won’t recognise you, or give you a point of contact, because you don’t have an IFA agency number.  Establishing good points of contact within companies is very hard on this side of the fence – they haven’t yet caught up with what we do, and the support that we need to do our jobs.

Working from home

Up until now, I’ve talked about outsourced paraplanning but working from home poses it’s own challenges common, I suspect, to any job.

Sat in an office on your own means no office politics, no or limited personality clashes and, in my role, little involvement in administration so I can just get on with good research and report writing.

Working from home means a lot less disturbances. You don’t have colleagues and clients calling every five minutes, disturbing your train of thought. You do, however, get a lot of emails.

Without wishing to pull on the heartstrings, don’t underestimate how lonely it can be. If you’re sociable like me, working from home can be hard. It works for me because I spend my evenings and weekends busy and make sure I get my ‘people fix’ then. If I didn’t to this then I know I would feel very isolated.

I’m sure office workers would argue with this, but I’ve found I work harder and longer hours. It’s difficult to down tools at the end of the day so you need to be disciplined in this respect.

A few words of advice

Advisers who outsource their paraplanning won’t make allowances for inexperience and expect you to know at least as much as them, if not more.  Try to get as qualified as possible. I’d suggest Diploma qualified as a minimum; preferably Chartered.

Before setting up your own outsourced paraplanning business, try working for one first. The difference between in-house and outsourced is considerable. I gave it serious consideration myself, but decided that I didn’t want the hassle of running my own business on top of doing my day job

If you work from home, make sure your days are full and give yourself lots of reasons to go out. Stock up on tea-bags and be disciplined with your time and the fridge!

For me, the opportunities offered by working as an outsourced paraplanner far outweigh the drawbacks.  Everyone looks for something different from their career, and if you get to the point where you want something more – something that will push you hard – then I recommend it.

At this year’s IFP Paraplanner Conference, I’ll be taking part in a panel discussion that will explore perspectives from both in-house and outsourced paraplanning. Given there is so much to consider, I’m sure it will be an interesting debate.