Cathy Russell – Canada Life
8 December 2016
Former paraplanner Cathy Russell is now a tax and estate planning consultant, travelling the country helping to train staff in advisory firms. A job she loves, she tells Rob Kingsbury
Cathy Russell has worked in the financial services industry for over 20 years. She started as a secretary, moved into administration then paraplanning and now she is a consultant for Canada Life, travelling the country helping to train advisers and paraplanners in her specialist areas of tax, trusts and estate planning.
“Like most people I didn’t choose to go into financial services, I fell into it,” she says. “In fact, I’ve only met two people in all my time in the industry that actually chose to enter financial services at a young age.”
The catalyst that found her working in the industry was when the company she was working for as a secretary relocated from central Scotland, where she lives, to Milton Keynes. “That was a move I really didn’t want to make so I started looking for another job closer to home. What I found was a temporary role for six-month maternity cover as secretary for a regional sales manager in a financial services company.”
Over time, she found that she was asked to do more and more administration, “which I found I really liked,” she says, and when a former colleague contacted her about a role in a firm of financial advisers, she joined the company as a secretary/administrator.
“As my knowledge widened, I decided it was time I started to get some financial services qualifications, for two reasons. First, the qualifications would help build my confidence in my ability to do the job that I was doing. That may sound strange but as I hadn’t set out to work in the industry and was relatively new to it, I wanted the reassurance of qualifications behind me.
Secondly, it was proof to the company and the people I worked with that I was keen to expand my knowledge and I was capable of progressing further up the ladder.”
It led to her promotion to senior administrator, a role akin to that of today’s paraplanner. “This was in the late 1990s before the term paraplanner had been coined in the UK but as the paraplanner role became more defined over the next few years, I was able to point to it and say, that’s what I’ve been doing for the last six or seven years,” Cathy says.
With the new role came more responsibility, such as recruiting staff and training them to become administrators and paraplanners.
At the time, the next natural progression for her was to become a financial adviser. “A lot of my friends assumed that what I would do was get more qualifications and move ‘up the ladder’. But I never wanted to cross that line. And that has never changed for me.”
The reason is a simple one, she says. “What fascinated me and still does, is the story of the client’s life up until the point they came looking for financial advice, and then to see how the financial planning has helped to shape their life and make a difference going forward. I loved looking at all the different options open to them and thinking through how each individual option could influence or impact on their situation.”
And, of course, she adds, every client is different, presenting her with different scenarios and different sets of criteria to consider.
“And that’s what I love about my current role, the fact that when I go to work there is never a set day, you don’t get up in the morning knowing exactly what you are doing because you’re dealing with people and it depends on what lands on your desk.
“Don’t get me wrong,” she adds, “I do get asked the same kinds of questions week about on generic technical issues, but I do love thinking through individual situations and looking for what might help with them.”
Cathy started on the qualification route by taking the financial planning certificates, FPC 1 to 3, as well the mortgage qualification, as the firm she was working for provided generalist advice.
“It was then that I got hit by the ‘study bug’,” she says. “I wanted to go on and keep expanding my knowledge.” At that time, the next level up was the Advanced FPC and it was when she was studying for the G10 exam, the tax and trusts qualification, she says, “that I realised that was what I wanted to do and I had found my vocation in life.”
Constant learning process
However, it was never going to be a case of ‘got the qualification, job done’, she adds. “With this type of role, and my colleagues will agree with me, you can never sit back and say, I’ve got my G10 I don’t need to study anymore. You need to be studying all the time because things are changing all the time – government is continually initiating consultations in the tax and trusts arena and you have to stay on top of that. You have to be prepared to be constantly keeping an eye on what’s happening around you and learning.
“Which, of course, is true of paraplanners as well. They may have the highest qualifications but they need to keep abreast of anything that might impact the client and need to be flagged in the reports they are writing for their financial advisers.”
To that end, Cathy does not believe the level of CPD required for paraplanners to maintain their qualifications is sufficient in today’s markets. “I believe that to properly keep abreast of what’s happening in the market, as regulation and legislation changes, paraplanners will need to do well above the minimum number of hours set down by the qualifications bodies for CPD purposes.”
Having obtained G10 (“with distinction – I’m very proud of that” she says) it meant looking for a role that was less generalist and she succeeded in getting a job with an outsourcing firm that placed specialist consultants on contracts with, mainly, large financial services companies and banks, to fulfill short term and project needs.
However, even this role wasn’t as specialised as Cathy was hoping for, which saw her move on to a role as a tax and estate planning consultant with Skandia (now Old Mutual).
Sadly, after three years, Skandia changed tack and Cathy along with others in the consultancy team were made redundant. “But I was very fortunate that Canada Life were looking for someone to fill a similar role at that time. Which meant I had an almost seamless move over to continue doing my dream job at Canada Life. And I’ve been there now for five-and-a-half years.”
So what does her dream job entail?
“My title is tax and estate planning consultant and I am part of the iCan Technical Services team. Currently, we have five people based in head office doing the iCan technical role, who cover pensions as well as tax and trusts.
“Then there are three people like me, who are on the road, covering just tax and trusts. We each cover the whole of the UK and the reason for that is because demand can come in from any part of the UK at any time, which means we can’t create nice dividing lines across the country. We have to go wherever there is demand.”
If an adviser firm has a need for help or training on tax or trusts, the Canada Life account manager will arrange for one of the team to go in to the firm and help them out.
“So I spend my working days talking and presenting on all aspects of tax and trusts to paraplanners, advisers and their professional connections, such as lawyers and solicitors,” Cathy explains. “That can include a basic introduction to trusts, and I do a lot of presentations to people who have just joined the industry or who have just moved into the estate planning arena, through to advanced technical presentations on how some of the more complicated estate planning solutions can work, looking at different ideas for our different clients.”
Alongside the face-to-face training, Cathy has filmed information and training videos, which are available to view alongside various webinars on the Canada Life website. “We like the webinars because they are live talks to slides and mean we can reach more people with one presentation, and advisers and paraplanners can learn from them without taking too much time out from their working day.”
In the same frame, she says, the team also produces what it calls ‘Tedcasts’, which again are available on the website. “These are short, bite-sized presentations that tend to last 8-12 minutes and will cover things like an introduction to offshore bonds, or an introduction to trusts, or how top slicing works. They are pre-recorded, rather than live like the webinars and use Powerpoint style presentation with a voiceover.”
She also undertakes individual case consultations. “So if someone has a complicated or a large tax issue and they want to just bounce ideas around and to check that technically they are not suggesting anything that is incorrect, or to ensure that they are up-to-date on the legislation and they haven’t missed something that means what they are proposing wouldn’t work, I can talk to them about that.”
How many people or firms Cathy can see in a month will vary depending any formal presentations she is booked in to make, such as for professional bodies, nationals and networks, as well as commercial events. But on average she will have 15-20 meetings a month, as well as presenting webinars and filming Tedcasts and handling individual phone calls and emails.
”There are a variety of things I can get involved in day-to-day.”
What’s in it for Canada Life?
With a team of eight, three of whom are travelling around the country on a permanent basis, the obvious question is, what does Canada Life get out of providing this resource?
Cathy explains: “We are hoping that by providing this first class technical service, that people can access either in person, by phone or by email, and they can rely on, that when it comes to an IHT case or an investment case, the first thing that comes into their head is ‘Canada Life’.
“A lot of companies in the industry have cut back on this kind of resource, which means people can’t phone someone to help and talk them through some of these cases. We want to be there for paraplanners and advisers. In my opinion, why would you use somebody who is not prepared to give you any help?”
Cathy says she is grateful for her time as a paraplanner and the knowledge it gave her, because without it she wouldn’t be where she is today.
“It was as a paraplanner that I developed my understanding across all areas of financial advice, some of which I enjoyed and some of which I didn’t, but if I hadn’t become an administrator, and then become a paraplanner, I wouldn’t have become a tax and trusts specialist and I wouldn’t be doing my dream job. And I can honestly say that I love getting up in the morning and looking forward to each day and what it’s going to bring.”