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5 minutes with…. Gayle Conway, Expert Pensions

22 July 2020

Fiona Bond spoke with Gayle Conway, managing director of the West Lothian-based firm about its development and its win at this year’s Professional Paraplanner Awards.

In the eight years since was founded, Expert Pensions has grown in popularity within the financial advice community, with 85% of new clients joining its growing network as a result of recommendations.

Originally founded by pensions expert John Reynolds in 2012, the firm initially focused on the now-defunct AF3 exam. However, in recent years Expert Pensions has branched out to cover a broad spectrum of exams within financial services.

“We are primarily known for our Level 6 support and that’s what our reputation has largely been built upon, but we never advertised that,” explains Gayle Conway, managi8ng director, Expert Pensions. “We have spent the last few years developing our offering to ensure our courses cover a broad range of exams within tax, pensions investments and financial planning.”

Paraplanners regularly approach the firm unsure of what steps to take next and in need of advice.

Gayle says: “We often get asked by people where they should start or what they should do next. They want guidance based on their own individual situation or preferences and we are more than happy to talk to anyone about their potential journey.”

The success of structure

Since Gayle joined the firm four years ago, it has also moved to an online proposition, keeping pace with both a technology-driven world and the needs of its students.

“In the early days, the firm would run lots of face-to-face workshops, but we found that online sessions were more effective for students as they could sit and study at a time that worked for them,” says Gayle.

In fact, making the studying process as efficient and as effective as possible is at the heart of Expert Pensions’ offering. All students receive a structured study plan that breaks down the syllabus week-by-week, as well as access to video tutorials, study notes, exam-style questions and contact with industry experts.

Gayle says: “What we always advocate is having a structure and this has been one of our biggest selling points with students. The big problem people face is time – there is always something going on, whether it’s work, family or other commitments and it’s very easy to let studying slip unless you have a structure.”

But Gayle says where the firm stands out from others is that it combines technical expertise with exam technique. Expert Pensions believes students should know what the exam paper will look like and the type of questions they will be asked and for paraplanners preparing to sit exams in July, honing their exam technique should be a priority.

“Passing exams is just as much about exam technique as it is about technical knowledge,” explains Gayle. “Our advice would be to look through past papers and model answers to really understand what will be asked of you and how to format answers to get the highest marks. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes while you’re studying, that’s how you learn.

“Remember to breathe, stay calm and use it as an opportunity to show off what you know. It can be tempting to try and rush through the paper, but we always say to students that they must take their time to read the whole paper and tackle the easiest questions first, leaving time to go back to the harder questions. That way you’ll build up your confidence as you go.”

Looking to the future

As part of its growth strategy, Expert Pensions is continuing to develop its learning solutions, starting with a new knowledge hub focused on defined benefit transfers.

“We’re always reviewing our courses and one of things we’ve found is that people who go through their exams with us still want to be involved with the company and continue to develop. That drove us to offer masterclasses with built-in CPD certificates,” explains Gayle.

And with defined benefit transfers becoming a hot talking point within the industry, building a focused hub was a natural next step.

Gayle adds: “We felt our students would benefit from a DB transfers knowledge hub that allows people to share their knowledge, experience and best practice as well as break down the information that comes out of the FCA policy statements and how that directly impacts advice firms.

“Our mission has always been to create learning solutions that allow people to really excel in their professional life and we hope to continue growing by doing just that.”

Award win

Expert Pensions was crowned ‘Best Training Resource for Paraplanners 2020’ at this year’s Professional Paraplanner Awards, after spending the last few years expanding its proposition to become a leading online learning and development solution.

Gayle Conway, managing director, Expert Pensions, said the firm was delighted to win an award voted for by paraplanners themselves.

“To know our students have voted for us has been an absolute honour and winning the award brought some much-needed good news with so many awful things happening in the world right now. The whole team is over the moon and we are so grateful to everyone who voted.”

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