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Administrator to partner: Luan Mahoney, Chadney Bulgin

17 March 2020

Luan Mahoney tells Rob Kingsbury how she progressed her career from mortgage administrator to head of Operations and a partner with Chadney Bulgin, and why she likes to stay hands-on in her day-to-day role.

First published in the March 2020 issue of Professional Paraplanner

Luan Mahoney’s financial services career stretches back over 25 years but it took off when she joined Hampshire-based Chadney Bulgin in 2002. Her career progression is very much linked to the success and growth of that business over the past 18 years, from a firm just undertaking mortgage work to one now split 65% wealth management and 35% mortgages.

“My career has developed as the business has,” Luan explains, “from mortgage administrator to supervisor to manager of a mortgage team, and then manager of a wealth and mortgage team, to head of operations. I became a partner in the business in 2008.”

Luan started her working career in retail but quickly found there wasn’t much money in it, so she went to night school, learned to type “because that was my perception of what I needed to do to work in an office” and landed her first office job. This happened to be in financial services, working for Abbey National (now Santander) in a mortgage centre processing mortgage applications. She stayed there for seven years until the company moved the office to the north of the UK and she was made redundant.

Her next role was with a mortgage adviser and then she moved to a wealth management IFA.

“But most of my roles were with mortgage advisers and when I joined Chadney Bulgin in 2002, it predominantly did mortgages. I joined as a mortgage administrator. We were processing 350 mortgages a month and we had one wealth planning consultant.”

An inflow of new management into the business on the retirement of senior partner Tom Chadney, saw the business begin to change, taking on more wealth management work as well as acquiring smaller businesses on the wealth side.

This change of strategy was well timed and, in 2007, it was accelerated as the financial crisis began to take hold and mortgage business dropped off significantly.

The changes brought opportunities both for the business and for the staff. Within two years of joining the firm Luan had been promoted to supervisor and then to manager of the joint mortgage and wealth administration team.

The shift from mortgages to financial planning required a lot of re-training of staff, Luan says, “including myself”, as well as recruiting. “It was a period of huge change.”

As the business has expanded, there has been development and specialisation of those teams. Chadney Bulgin now has a mortgage administration team, a wealth administration team, a service team, and paraplanning teams both on the wealth and the mortgage sides of the business.

When mortgages came back after the financial crisis subsided, for a while the financial advisers straddled both areas, taking on mortgage advice as well as wealth planning, but over time they became specialists in their areas, as have the support teams, Luan explains. “That makes sense, particularly in support, because the pace and demands on administration are very different between the two arms. It enables us to concentrate on the areas and what they need. We find it takes different skills and personality to be a mortgage administrator to someone on the wealth side. As an example, on the mortgage side it is faster paced, there is more contact and chasing of providers for quick answers, which means there is a lot of telephone work and a high level of tenacity is needed to chase and challenge the lenders.

“On the wealth side you need more technical and analytical skills sets. We find people tend to settle and fit into one team or the other, although we do get people moving between teams in order to develop and progress their career prospects.”

A growing business naturally develops a need for more and more infrastructure. Luan was promoted to head of Operations in 2017, overseeing the firm’s offices in Fleet, Hampshire and Chichester, Sussex. Her responsibilities now include the management of all sales support staff, operations, business strategies and maintaining service to all clients throughout their ongoing relationship with Chadney Bulgin.

Paraplanning team

Originally the firm had no paraplanning operation. Luan has overseen the growth of the paraplanning team, bringing in Martin Green as the first paraplanner, who is now paraplanner manager.*

The firm encourages staff to develop and learn and to progress their careers within the business. “We have people move from administration into paraplanning and from paraplanning into advice,’ Luan says. “We have a really good training infrastructure. One of our senior partners is responsible for training across the business. Managers will identify training needs and do on the job training but if we feel there is a need for deeper learning, we will have classroom sessions.

“It helps us manage risks in the business when people are learning and developing and know to ask the right questions of the right people to get the answers they need. Having the ability to spot something that doesn’t sound correct is a useful attribute.”

Also, the firm is a registered examination centre with the CII and has just launched its own Training Academy on the wealth side. “We have a number of wealth advisers who are going to be retiring over the next five to ten years and we are looking to bring people through the academy to replace them. This is a very exciting development for us as a business.”

Firm culture

Despite the growth of the business over the years, what’s important to Chadney Bulgin, Luan stresses, is that the firm retains its culture, which she feels is important to both the people in the business and its clients. “We don’t want to be big corporate; we still want to have that family feeling within the business. The size we are now is a nice size. It means the senior managing partners know everyone’s name and what they do, and if anyone has an opinion or an idea it is listened to and valued. We never want to lose that. It’s important; it’s what has kept people working here for a long time – and it’s what has kept people as clients for a long time.”

Looking back over her 18 years with the firm Luan says she recognises the benefits of working for a firm of the size and ambition of Chadney Bulgin. “The firm has vastly changed over the past 18 years and as the business has developed so my career has developed and changed with it. It’s been an exciting career path.

“But for me the most exciting part has been to see other people’s careers develop within the firm as well, for me to hand over responsibilities and for people to have opportunities to progress their careers just as I’ve had.”

A typical day

“As head of Operations, I’m the hub for that side of the business. IT takes up a big part of my day. It will depend on project work as well. For example, we are moving our back-office system between providers at the moment. For a company of our size with over 80 members of staff, we have a huge amount of data to migrate across, all of which requires data mapping, alongside the training of staff on the new system.

“Finding the right system also came within my remit, researching the market and conducting due diligence. The biggest challenge for us is that we have the two arms, wealth and mortgage, and while I went to the market and found some amazing systems that did wealth well or mortgages well, there was no system that did both to the level that we wanted. So, we targeted a company that handles the wealth side of the business very well and is willing to work with us to build a better system for our mortgage side, so we can benefit from greater efficiencies for our mortgage advisers and support teams.

“As a partner I am involved in business strategy, looking at where we go in the future. I sit on our investment committee, I have regular meetings with my department managers, in administration, paraplanning and HR, across Fleet and Chichester. They report to me on what’s happening in their departments, what issues they have, and we work on solutions together.

“I’m still very much involved in what’s happening in all the teams and I wouldn’t have it any other way because that’s where I came from and I’ve a stake in it. I’ve built up the teams and having that experience of the business at so many different levels, I tend to have come across most things and they can bounce ideas and solutions off me for a second opinion.”

Three key elements for a good administration department

Luan believes the top three elements needed to run a good administration department are:

  1. Variety of interesting work. Having a variety of interesting work keeps people engaged, wanting to learn and improve. It also feeds the next key element, which is…
  2. Morale. You have to have good morale and camaraderie. It has to be a good place to come to work.
  3. Strong leadership. Staff need someone to guide them or to go to with problems, whether those are work related or personal. They have to feel confidence in the leadership team and that they are supported by them.

* Martin Green talks about being a paraplanning manager in this video and what being part of the investment Committee entails here. In the September 2018 issue we wrote about the structure of the Chadney Bulgin paraplanning team.

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