First the two-day conference. Branded as the ‘League of Extraordinary Paraplanners’ (see coverage elsewhere on Financial Planning Today), it was a great success. Huge efforts were made by the CISI team lead by Campbell Edgar CFPTM and Jackie Lockie CFPTM and conference co-chairs Dan Atkinson and Farida Hassanali CFPTM.
Some of the team even took to wearing superhero costumes to underline the ‘planners are superheroes’ idea. Conference co-chair Dan Atkinson’s superman suit will be etched on my memory for a long time.
I’ve attended many of the annual Paraplanning conferences – started by the Institute of Financial Planning – and this was one of the best. Some 130 Paraplanners attended plus exhibitors, speakers and other VIPs. A great venue too. Some 80 per cent were female and with many under 35 this was quite a different ‘demographic’ to the old IFP conferences. All good so far.
So why do I have reservations? I wasn’t at every session but there seemed to me little room for debate or discussion on the future direction of the Paraplanning profession and this debate needs to happen. To be fair, the event, like many Paraplanning events, consisted mostly of CPD-achieving technical seminars. All very worthy but little room for discussion on where Paraplanning should be in five or 10 years.
Some individuals are trying, for example, to establish a Paraplanning standard to define what a Paraplanner should aspire to but the professional bodies have been slow to support this initiative or come up with their own framework.
For 10 years I’ve been writing about the emergence and development of the Paraplanning profession and yet there is still no industry-agreed definition of the core competencies of a Paraplanner. I’m regularly asked: ‘What is a Paraplanner?’ I struggle sometimes to define the role.
There are many questions that, disappointingly, still need answering more than 10 years after Paraplanning was recognised as a professional role: how do you define what a Paraplanner does (or should do)?, what are the minimum qualifications to become a Paraplanner or enter the profession?, what is the professional pathway? How does the role relate to Financial Planning? and so on.
Another big issue, and maybe one of the biggest, is Paraplanner recruitment. This has become such a hot potato for the whole Paraplanner sector I believe the Chartered Body Alliance needs to set up a working party to look into it.
Good Paraplanners are simply in very, very short supply. It’s not inconceivable that at the current rate Paraplanner salaries will eventually outstrip Financial Planner salaries because of the demand. This is a bit like Paramedics being paid more than hospital consultants. Great for the Paramedics but just not sustainable or indeed wise in the long term. Paraplanners may be in danger of pricing themselves out of the jobs market.
Lack of direction and failure to resolve key challenges could result in Paraplanning running out of steam and that would be a shame as I quite liked the superhero costumes last week and I quite like Paraplanners too, often the quiet, unsung heroes of many practices.
I want to see them succeed but ducking some pretty big questions is not the answer. Paraplannning will be much healthier with a clear definition of roles, a clear professional pathway, a campaign to recruit many more Paraplanners and an agreed professional direction. Perhaps we really do need a superhero Paraplanner after all.
Kevin O’Donnell is editor of Financial Planning Today and a financial journalist with over 20 years of experience