Paraplanning’s professional challenge

To put it diplomatically, reaction to the FSA’s suggestion that paraplanners should challenge advisers over suitability letters, in particular, has been mixed among some advisers.

In fact, if you take a look at the comments posted by readers beneath the report of the FSA’s Chris Hewitt at the IFP’s Paraplanner Conference 2012 here, you’ll see just how diplomatic I’m being.

The views expressed by some comment contributors about the role of paraplanners in the advice process are sobering; some might suggest they are downright disrespectful.

But we are where we are and it is clear that, no matter how the views are expressed, some advisers remain unconvinced by the role that paraplanners can play in helping advisers help their clients.

And that means that the paraplanning profession is faced with the task of encouraging sceptical client-facing colleagues to, not only recognise the contribution that paraplanners are already able to make to great financial advice, but also their potential to prove invaluable assets for advice practices in a post-RDR world.

In fact, at Paraplan Plus, we think the relationship between paraplanners and advisers is similar to that between businesses and independent market researchers or research scientists because our role is two-fold:

to gather evidence, compare options and consider precedents; and then
to offer our opinion on what we’ve learned and the insights we are able to share in order for an adviser to make an informed judgement about how they can best advise their client.
However, just as in market research and scientific research, paraplanners are able to offer a range of opinions, insights and interpretations which help inform the direction and decision that advisers make but, importantly, do not displace them.

And, just as in market research and scientific research, the paraplanning population spans a wide spectrum of expertise, skills and experience encompassing a whole variety of styles of service.

So perhaps the first task is to make sure that, when advisers and paraplanners talk about paraplanning, we’re all talking about the same thing.

And to do that, it is probably important to distinguish between the types of services that paraplanners are able to offer, and the levels of qualification required to offer them.

That may not be an easy task, but it is a worthwhile one. After all, the FSA’s point yesterday was not really whether an adviser or paraplanner being right or wrong; it was about how, together, advisers and paraplanners can combine their talents to deliver the best possible financial advice for consumers.

Surely that’s an idea which no one could possibly argue with?