A good year: Alistair Cartwright, Clarion Wealth Planning
2 July 2020
Rob Kingsbury talks to Alistair Cartwright, winner of this year’s Paraplanner of the Year (in-house) award, about being promoted, his views on paraplanning and studying beyond the usual qualifications
Winning the Professional Paraplanner Paraplanner of the Year (in-house) award has been the icing on the cake this year for Alistair Cartwright, head of Advice Delivery at Clarion Wealth Planning.
In February he was promoted from Associate Financial Planner (paraplanner) to head of Advice Delivery and in April, having passed AF8, he achieved both Chartered status and Fellow of the Personal Finance Society.
Six months into 2020 and despite the effect of the Coronavirus and lockdown, “it has been a good year so far,” he says.
Already working as the paraplanner for Ron Walker, the founder of Clarion, his promotion means he heads up a team of seven; three paraplanners, three client support staff and the firm’s receptionist, all focussed on client service. It also saw him given seven projects to deliver by mid-year through lockdown. “That was a challenge but I’m never scared to jump in and get on with things. I’ll ask for help where I need it.” The projects have included working on: MiFID II and IDD documents; the firm’s decumulation strategy; PROD; a team staff training programme; fact sheets and other documents around the firm’s own fund of funds solutions; and as the firm has recently adopted a restricted advice model, a guide to the companies and products it is now using. “I can definitely say that the projects have kept me busy during lockdown,” he says.
Alistair became a paraplanner six years ago. After graduating from university with a Sports Science degree, he started his career with a role in a small IFA, first processing general documents, then mortgages and then as a trainee paraplanner alongside a paraplanner working for one of the financial advisers.
“That’s when I fell in love with paraplanning as a career. When I started to learn what paraplanning was about, the technical side, the calculations, and finding the solutions to issues for clients.” He started the role in 2014 and began immediately studying for his exams, gaining his Diploma in 2016, around which time he became the main paraplanner to the adviser.
He stayed with the company for five years. “By then, I knew what kind of paraplanner I wanted to be and what kind of company I wanted to work for. I was lucky enough to get the opportunity as a paraplanner with Clarion Wealth, as their focus is lifelong cashflow-driven financial planning. It took me out of my comfort zone at that time but I knew it was what I wanted to do.”
Moving into the head of Advice Delivery position, has again pushed Alistair out of his comfort zone. His time, he says is split roughly 75% client work and 25% management and project work.
“I’ve never had a management role before and taking on the projects have added to the challenge but I’m really enjoying it. It’s where I see my skills lying. I don’t want to be an adviser. I’m a paraplanner and I want to be the best paraplanner and best head paraplanner that I can be.”
To that end Alistair is studying for the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) Level 5 Departmental Management qualification, which is an 18-month distance learning course. “I’m also taking the NextGen Adviser leadership /management programme.”
Key to being a great paraplanner Alistair suggests, is confidence. “To my mind paraplanners need to be seeing clients and clients have to know the paraplanner is part of the team which is looking out for them and they can call upon us if they need to. It’s why I like working for Clarion, because I attend all client meetings and as a paraplanner I have that face-to-face contact. It’s about having the confidence to help build the relationship with the client so they have confidence in us to help them meet their objectives and lead the lives they want to.”
That level of client contact is not something every firm does but it is indicative of the way the paraplanning role and what businesses want from their paraplanners is changing, he believes. “Paraplanning used to be seen as just as stepping-stone to being an adviser but increasingly it’s being seen as a profession in its own right. In the responsibility paraplanners have, their technical knowledge and skills, the tasks they undertake for firms and the fact that advisers now depend on them for support. In many respects they are as important as the financial advisers to the success of advice businesses.
“For me the paraplanning team is the engine of an advice business. They take a piece of work and ensure it is properly researched and progressed in a compliant way and pushed over the line for the client, giving them the best outcome. It’s helping the adviser and the owners of the firm to progress and grow the business.”
Protecting the advice
Being part of the client meetings, Alistair feels has greatly enhanced his knowledge and focus as a paraplanner. “When you’re in the meeting you get an overall perspective that you can’t get as well from reading a fact find on paper. The adviser will run the meeting, which allows the paraplanner to listen and take notes. In some ways it’s a means of protection for the firm, because it’s two people in the room taking on board what is being said, which makes it more likely that the recommendation which is made will match the client’s objectives. Sometimes the paraplanner may have a different view on what is right for the client’s circumstances and they need to have the confidence to challenge and push back where needed.”
Clarion clients receive an annual planning meeting once a year, plus any ad hoc meetings that are needed. “The annual meeting has a structured agenda and will normally last for two to two-and-a-half hours. We review the financial plan with the client; we pull it apart, review all their objective and put the plan back together again, so when the client leaves the meeting they know exactly how their money is being managed, where their income is going to come from and so on, and they have confidence in their plan for the next year. This is why I think it is important that paraplanners do attend meetings, as paraplanners are the ones pre, post and during the meeting sometimes, who are tasked with finding the answers, doing the research and the technical work, having full knowledge of and drawing up the plan.”
Knowing the software used by the firm, such as cashflow forecasting, “inside and out”, is also essential for a paraplanner Alistair believes. “I want to know that if there is a question raised in a client meeting or afterwards, I can accurately provide the answer – whether straight away or later – and I can actively contribute by highlighting things to think about.”
Developing as a paraplanner
One of the benefits of lockdown and not having face-to-face client meetings, he says, is the time it has given him to undertake the project work he has been given. “Alongside the daily meetings with rest of the team an ensuring the work is being progressed, taking on the individual project work has helped me hone my skills over a shorter period of time than would probably have been the case.”
It has also enabled him to put into practice one of the management course teachings, namely, “the skill and the art of delegation”.
“At the beginning as it was me that had been tasked with doing the projects I saw them as my responsibility to do them on my own. But as I started working on them I saw that there were elements where I could bring in other’s skills and I have learned to delegate during the course of the project work. They’ve benefited from us coming together and working together as a team.”
Another key to development, he says, is learning from mistakes. “There have been times in my career when I’ve made a mistake. I’ve learned not to dwell on it but to make sure I don’t make that mistake again and see it as a way to improve as a paraplanner and as a person.
“I think managers understand that mistakes will occur; what they don’t want is to see them being made again.”
Alistair would also recommend taking courses outside of the traditional qualification routes followed in financial planning. “A management course may not be relevant to everyone but there are plenty of other courses out there that can help you hone your skills in business or the soft skills which are useful in client meetings. And there are plenty of free webinars and other industry materials to keep improving your knowledge and your skills. I think as a paraplanners we should always be wanting to learn.”