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Para planning

Tony Blair, remember him, once said the three most important matters for his government were education, education, education. Well, as the RDR rumbles on, it is clear that, apart from remuneration, this will be the key issue in establishing financial advice as a profession.

In previous columns, I have given no quarter to those who claim experience is everything. If that is true, then Tiger Woods would be easy prey to me as I have been playing golf for far longer than he has but those who have played with me recently know that just does not hold water, well, apart from that 40-footer but I digress.

All this focus on training is firmly on the adviser. The back-office tends not to be seen as needing competence testing. Before you stop reading and assume I am now rambling, let me explain. If we are to create a career path we need to ensure that the youngest members of staff have a clear view of what they need to do to get on in our firm or any other.

I recently interviewed many candidates for the post of paraplanner and that confirmed widespread “title abuse”, yet, in other professions, there is no doubt of the competence level that a para holds.

Paralegals carry out legal work in a wide range of organisations. Although they are not fully qualified solicitors or barristers, they often still have law degrees and are subject to professional guidelines.

A paramedic is a medical professional, usually a member of the emergency medical service, who primarily provides pre-hospital advanced medical and trauma care.

In countries such as the US and the UK, the use of the word “paramedic” is restricted by law and the person claiming the title must have passed a specific set of examinations and clinical placements and hold a valid registration, certification or licence with a governing body.

If you trawl the web, you will find a definition that tells everybody there are 35,000 paraplanners in the UK and this underlines that, in our sector, the title paraplanner needs to fall under the same controls that adviser titles are subject to.

A paraplanner, in my book, is someone who can meet with clients alongside the planner and then go on to prepare the report for the planners to edit.

Judging by those I have interviewed, this is not what they do or could do, given the opportunity. Many have sat few, if any, exams, yet are allocated a title which implies a degree of professionalism that they do not have in any format.

We all need to educate our non-adviser staff to a higher level if we are not to be faced with a pool of well paid staff that is essentially unskilled.

This assumes that we seek to move to a level of advice where the value we add is far more obvious to the end- client.

The days of hiring people to file and make the tea are dead. We need to invest in our staff, accepting that they will leave, but making the commitment none the less.

We need to consider how best to introduce this and I believe this is where the ISO 22222 has the means to enable just what we need and that is a change of culture.

Change needs to be significant, making change in a way that no one notices leads to hostility when it is finally discovered. If you don’t believe me, just ask Gordon Brown.

We need to ensure that we change the whole firm and not just the advisers if this paradigm shift is going to produce a better culture for all.

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