24 June 2015
Martin Vaughan has been an influential figure in the development of paraplanning in the UK. Rob Kingsbury spoke to him about his career and how much he’d seen the profession change over the years.
Martin Vaughan has been a leading figure in the development of the paraplanning profession over the past decade and, although he has now set up his own wealth management firm and is a practicing financial planner, he remains involved in the paraplanning community. In fact, we arrange our interview having met at the Powwow in the Middle in March.
Martin’s route into paraplanning was via working for life insurers and a major bank back in the 1980s/1990s. He started his career in financial services as a ‘Man from the Pru’ going door to door as an agent for the Prudential, then took a similar role with Liverpool Victoria, and finally spent four years as a tied agent for HSBC bank. At the bank an increasing emphasis on selling rather than financial planning, which is where he wanted to be, made the decision for him that it was time to leave and he turned to the IFA market.
“I went to work as an administrator, as it was termed then, at an IFA in Nottingham. It meant taking a pay cut but I wanted to learn how an independent financial advice firm worked from the ground up,” he says. He had FPC and he began taking the higher level qualifications – he now has both Chartered and Certified Financial Planner status and is an Associate of the Personal Finance Society. “I found I really liked the role, so much so that I spent the next eight years working for a number of firms, during which time I saw what was deemed an administration job evolve into paraplanning.”
In 2008, he took the decision to set up his own outsourced paraplanning firm, establishing Paragon Paraplanning, which he ran until September 2013.
Then one of his clients asked him to go in-house, which he did, becoming a director of the main company, a stockbroker and discretionary investment manager, and also managing director of the firm’s wealth management arm.
The role allowed Martin to use his core paraplanning skills and expand upon them, through the capital markets side of the company, learning how a DFM and stockbroker worked. “It was a superb experience,” he says. “I now understand all the outsourced discretionary propositions.”
In addition, and dating back to his time at Paragon, he has been working as a consultant, advising and helping adviser clients to make the best use of their paraplanners, as well as consulting on business efficiencies and improvements within financial planning firms.
This experience, he says, has led naturally to the next stage in his career, setting up his own financial planning practice, Hamilton Rose Wealth Management and working as a financial planner.
“Having spent several years telling people how they should do it, now I’m walking the walk as well,” he says.
Raising the paraplanning profile
The incentives for Martin to establish Paragon Paraplanning, he says, were “a desire to work for myself, a need for some variety in the work I was doing, and a wish to become involved in other things.”
Those ‘other things’ have been instrumental in raising the profile of paraplanning. With Richard Allum he set up TheParaplanner.com a resource website which was designed, maintained and updated by paraplanners for paraplanners.
“TheParaplanner.com was our idea to provide a resource for paraplanners and allow people to talk to one another and share knowledge and experiences,” he explains. It comes as no surprise, he adds, that the online Forum, where people can log on and asks questions and learn from other paraplanners, has been the most successful part of the website.
He was also heavily involved in the developing the IFP’s Level 4 Certificate in Paraplanning, working with the Financial Services Skills Council.
“The work on the qualification was interesting as there were so many interpretations of the paraplanner role. So before we created the exam we had to define what a paraplanner is, and write a job specification within the FSSC and then go back and do the work with the IFP on the qualification,” Martin explains.
The question is, of course, whether there is a need for a specific paraplanning qualification given that many paraplanners are headed for Level 6 qualifications. To this he replies: “It depends on the kind of paraplanner you want, or want to be. If you want a person who is highly technical then they may be best served by just taking the more technical exams from the CII. But if you want someone who understands paraplanning in its entirety, then the paraplanning qualification will fulfill that.
“There is still a wide interpretation of what a paraplanner is – anyone who has advertised for a paraplanner will know how broad a range of experience and knowledge falls within that term. The qualification, therefore, sets a benchmark and helps employers know exactly what skills and knowledge a candidate should have.”
But at the same time it’s a stepping stone to Certified or Chartered Financial Planner status, he adds, “because why would a paraplanner not want to be Level 6 qualified?”
Changes to paraplanning
Asked how much paraplanning has changed over the years, Martin pauses before giving a cryptic answer. “It’s changed a lot but it hasn’t changed at all,” he says.
He explains: “The term paraplanning first appeared in a paper written for the University of Denver, Colorado, in 1983. In it the author described what a paraplanner was – and remarkably, it’s still very much the same today. The basic tenets of what a paraplanner is still hold true.
“What has changed is that now people are understanding the role, what it is and what it can provide. People are experiencing paraplanners and seeing that they provide a valuable role. So, quite rightly, paraplanning is getting a lot more attention than it ever has in the past.”
In its development, paraplanning has helped to change the way that financial advice is delivered, he adds.
“Over the years, the introduction of people to support advisers and allow them to do the thing they are really good at doing, i.e. dealing with the client, I think has helped change the industry beyond recognition. As a result, it is now a much more professional industry.”
Now people know what a paraplanner is, the emphasis is now on how firms can use their paraplanner effectively, he says. “Consequently, what we’re also seeing is the market evolve. Rather than be generalists, paraplanners are beginning to specialise. That’s a new move and reflects how the financial services market itself is changing. Giving financial advice is far more complex now than it ever was and just as financial planners are specialising, so too are paraplanners.”
So what about the collaborative ethos among the paraplanning community, has that always been there over the years?
“There has always been an almost family type environment,” he says. “Paraplanners are not generally in competition with one another in the way that advisers often are. So there is more freedom to share knowledge and experiences because there is little chance a paraplanner will poach a client. The sharing of what people did in a certain situation or how they dealt with a particular problem, or pointing to a good research tool or website, is about sharing experiences and that can make the financial planning profession better able to serve its clients in general,” he says.
“But what’s really great is that as the role is developing, so there are new people taking it forward. There is clear commitment and devotion to the role of paraplanner and a desire for paraplanning to be recognised as a profession, which includes the willingness to share information, something I don’t think you’d get in many other parts of the industry.”
Advice on setting up an outsourced paraplanner firm
As someone who has been there and done it when it comes to setting up an outsourced paraplanning operation, what would be Martin Vaughan’s advice to someone who was thinking about doing the same?
“My first piece of advice would be to have a go,” he says. “It may be the best thing you have ever done.
“That said, don’t underestimate how difficult it will be. I don’t mean difficult to find clients, generally speaking it won’t be difficult because a lot of financial planning practices have recognised that being able to outsource some or all of their paraplanning is a good thing. It’s knowing that paraplanning will just be a part of what you have to do – and you will need to be able to deal with all the other things that come with running your own business.”
Most important, he stresses, is “to know what you want to do and what you want out of it. Just as the in-house paraplanning role can be dramatically different from one business to another, the same applies to outsourced firms. You need to define what service you want to provide. It’s understanding the distinction between the different types of paraplanners and where your skill sets lie.”
Similarly, advisers need to know what they want from an outsourced paraplanner, he adds. “Do they want someone who is highly technical or do they want a CFP professional who can produce a general financial plan? Do they want report writers or people who are fully conversant with cashflow modeling software? They need to know what process they are going to outsource and what they are expecting for it.
“In my experience, if you are offering outsourced paraplanning services you need to define right at the outset what you are providing and what it is that the client wants from you.”
What you also have to remember, he stresses, is that there will be jobs you take on that you don’t necessarily like but you’ll do them to bring in other work or simply to pay the bills. “That’s what many people don’t get when they start up. It’s okay being an outsourced paraplanner for the people you’ve just worked for because you know them and they know you. But working for someone you’ve never worked for, that you’ve never met before and whose business you don’t know, is much different. Then you’ve got to try to describe what you do, so that when you deliver it’s what they expect. That doesn’t always happen.
“It’s understanding all that side of the business that can be difficult,” he says.