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From the Report Writing Howwow 2018

24 July 2018

Jane Holt, director and paraplanner at Mackenzie Financial Planning, provides a report  on the recent Paraplanner Howwow in Manchester.

Paraplanners are a diverse bunch, and nowhere was this better represented than at the recent Report Writing Howwow, hosted by Paraplanners Powwow in the cellar of a Cuban Bar in central Manchester.

Attended by around 70 paraplanners, the event replicated a similar event which took place in London in July 2017.

United by a common goal of growth, development and with an open mind to new ideas, the northern paraplanning community demonstrated their enthusiasm with lively discussion, networking, and a hint of banter.

Three core topics were presented to the whole audience in the morning, and in the afternoon the attendees broke into three groups, each group spending 40 minutes with each expert, asking questions and finding out more about the subject.

As well as presentations and group sessions with the speakers, a panel of paraplanners was on hand throughout the day to provide their top tips and opinions. Attendees were encouraged to network, share ideas and opinions.

The panel were: Richard Allum (Managing Director, The Paraplanners), Johnny Stubbs (Head of Paraplanning, Lift Financial), Jane Holt (Director, Mackenzie Financial Planning), Benjamin Fabi (Owner, Principled Paraplanning), Jenny Ryan (Paraplanner, AAB Wealth).

The presentations covered the core aspects of report writing, and the topics had been chosen to provide value to paraplanners of all levels, in firms of varying size and approach:

The Words

Robin Harries of Quietroom opened with a presentation about ‘The Words’. Robin has worked with some big financial brands (including Prudential, Axa Healthcare and HSBC), and is a self-made expert in communicating financial concepts to the general public.

Robin’s key message was that to communicate effectively with our clients we need to move away from the legal-sounding, complex and sometimes vague language of traditional reports, to a more direct and conversational style.

He provided practical examples taken from typical reports, taking us on a journey from vague, non-commital phraseology such as:

“Whilst every effort has been made to ensure accuracy, no liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions.”

To the more direct and sincere:

“We’ve done as much as we can to make sure the information is accurate. If you notice a mistake, please let us know. Otherwise, we’re not liable for any mistakes you notice later down the line.”

Robin also looked at how to improve the structure of reports using cohesive headings, sub-headings and effective bullet points.

The Tech: Automation

Ed Evans and Ed Bedell of suitability report writing software Genovo had been invited to provide an insight to the functionality of automated reports. They outlined the key benefits of this approach:

  • Efficiency and time saving
  • Better compliance outcomes
  • Delegation of report writing to junior staff
  • Reduced errors and omissions
  • Auto-calculations and other shortcuts

They also spent time examining some of the drawbacks: the need to rely on a third party to ensure content (legislation, tax etc) is up to date; the software cost element, and in particular, the limitations compared to bespoke, personalised reports to a client.

They also took a look at integration of software packages; a subject that has long been the bug-bear of many a paraplanner who has to copy and paste data from one system to another. Ed was optimistic about the future of integration; believing that we will see big developments in this area from many providers in the near future.

Word

Johnny Stubbs, head of paraplanning at Lift in Altrincham, spent some time sharing his expertise using the widely used programme Word. My Word skills have evolved organically without any formal training, and it’s a frustration to know that the programme can facilitate so much more than I am able to access. Johnny provided a whistle stop tour of some of his favourite features and those he feels are invaluable in the report writing process:

  • Setting up and using ‘styles’
  • Inserting standard text
  • Formulas / smart tables

It was a real benefit to have a take-away from the event that attendees could ‘play with’ immediately, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one first thing the next morning trying out some of the tricks I had learned.

Interestingly, Johnny was also optimistic about the future of software integration.

The Rules

Arguably the headline speaker of the event, Rory Percival of Rory Percival Training and Consultancy Ltd, and formerly of the FCA, presented his views on what should be included in suitability reports. He acknowledged that as paraplanners we are often pulled by the conflicting demands of financial planners wanting to do the best for their clients, and compliance managers or consultants, wanting to ensure that client communications fully comply with the rules laid out by the FCA.

Those who have heard Rory speak before will be familiar with his pragmatic approach to ‘the rules’, and he did not disappoint; being candid in his interpretation of FCA guidelines and generous with his opinion.

Rory reiterated the occasions when a suitability report is required, and summarised recent changes in cost disclosure and annual review reports following MIFID II.

Amongst many valuable and thought-provoking points he made was the key message that a suitability report only actually needs to contain five items:

  • The client’s objectives;
  • The recommendation and how it meets these objectives;
  • The disadvantages associated with the recommendation;
  • The risks;
  • The cost.

He covered each of these areas in more detail, providing examples of how a report could be structured and drawing on best practice he has seen in recent years.

The day

As a paraplanner who has been ‘out of the loop’ in terms of event attendance for a few years, the event provided me with an opportunity to connect with my peers in a way that online chat, webinars and articles can’t. I was full of enthusiasm and new ideas to take back to my financial planning practice, where I had been feeling for quite some time that our communications needed an injection of life and a fresh approach.

Within the subsequent weeks myself and paraplanning colleague David Norbury, who also attended the event, have given our reports a major overhaul. They have been dissected and reassembled, with a specific focus on

  • what we include (some sections have been removed completely; others replaced with stand-alone supplementary documents)
  • the order of the sections (client objectives first) and how they are titled (‘summary of recommendations’ rather than ‘executive summary’)
  • using more colour, illustrations and graphics to present reports in a more appealing format.

In summary, an invigorating event which provided both practical tips for immediate improvement, and inspiration for longer term development within our reports. It has encouraged me to focus on our reports, which are of course a core element within both our business and our profession, and has reignited my enthusiasm for the report-writing craft.

3 take-aways from the Howwow:

1. Assume intelligence, rather than knowledge in your readers. Avoid overly technical wording but don’t be patronising.

2. Invest time in finding the right tech, whether this is software, training or extra kit such as a second screen.

3. Cut, cut, cut! The days of waffle and thrice-repeated risk warnings are in the past. Reports need to be well structured and concise.

Photograph: Lucas Smith Photography

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