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Sam Rees-Adams: The power of awards

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Having just had the privilege of  being on the judging panel for the Institute of Financial Planning’s paraplanner of the year award, I started reflecting on the process itself and how it could form part of an approach to CPD.

Being shortlisted, let alone winning, is an incredible achievement. But all entrants will have had their knowledge and skills put to the test and learned a lot from each stage of the process.

The selection process is tough. There is a technical test, which goes into considerable detail and covers a wide range of subjects. Having to use your technical knowledge under test conditions is a good way to find out if it is as good as it needs to be.  Paraplanning is highly technical  and getting involved in detailed recommendations to meet identified client needs means you really have to know your stuff.

Financial planners tell us one of the most valuable things a paraplanner can do is challenge their thinking and their recommendations  for clients. You cannot do that if your technical knowledge is shaky. It is the foundation for everything else.

The technical test was followed by an essay. Entrants had a choice of two titles on which to write a well-argued essay that showed evidence of considerable research. While research is a useful academic exercise and uses skills necessary  for creating financial plans, the essays went further. Their titles were directly relevant to the job, so the research had wider applicability than simply to the award.

The final stage for shortlisted candidates was to be interviewed by the judging panel. Their essays were explored in depth and they were grilled to ensure they really understood the subject. It’s one thing to cite statistics but quite another to articulate what lies behind them and the implications of use. Being able to do that has enormous potential for application in the workplace.

Candidates were also asked  what value they add to their business and how they approach their own development. We all prep for  these questions when looking for a new job but how many of us do it regularly?  It is motivating, sometimes surprising and can help make the case for a promotion. 

There is a huge amount to be gained from  entering awards. Each step gives you something  practical that can form part of your CPD programme. Look at the requirements and think about what you might get out of the application process.

While we all have our preferred ways of undertaking CPD, it is a good discipline to think of doing something different. An award or an accreditation process can often deliver exactly that. Going through the process is time consuming but it can pay dividends in terms of professional development.

The winner of Paraplanner of the Year will get everything from the process and the title itself, which is a truly fantastic achievement. 

And the winner is… Oh come on, you didn’t really expect me to give the game away, did you?

Sam Rees-Adams is director of professional standards at the IFP

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