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Jonny Stubbs – LIFT-Financial

9 March 2018

Recruited to build the paraplanning team at LIFT-Financial, Jonny Stubbs talks about the role and lays out his first-year plan and vision for the team

Jonny Stubbs joined LIFT-Financial, part of the LIFT-Financial Group, in January 2018 as head of Technical Support, with a brief to grow and develop the paraplanning team for the business.
The position is new and was created after LIFT-Financial decided to split out its compliance and paraplanning teams from under the same management umbrella, in order to meet the company’s increasing demand for quality paraplanning as it continued to grow.

Jonny’s brief is to bring a fresh perspective to the paraplanning role by building an innovative and forward-thinking team of paraplanners, with a focus on personal and professional development.
Currently the team is structured with a core team of five paraplanners of various levels of experience, from senior to trainee, augmented by graduates going through the firm’s Graduate Programme to become financial planners. The graduates get a full financial planning education, starting out working in the administration team to learn the basics, then spending 18-24 months as part of the paraplanning team, to gain the crucial experience this delivers, and then another 18-24 months shadowing a financial planner on a one-to-one basis, while undertaking paraplanning for that planner. At the same time, they will be taking their exams so that at the end of a five to six year period, when they become financial planners, they will be Chartered and potentially Fellows of the Personal Finance Society (PFS), Jonny explains.

“It’s a structure that has worked well, but it does mean that as the graduates move through the programme, so the number of paraplanners fluctuates. Part of my overall goal, therefore, is to build a more permanent core paraplanning team, as well as move the paraplanning team forward with new drive and ideas.”

LIFT Group is based in Altrincham, Cheshire and has offices in London and Edinburgh too. It is comprised of several arms, including the Chartered financial planning firm, LIFT-Financial; LIFT-Sport, which serves professional sports people; alongside corporate, insurance and mortgage advice services.

“What I like about the company is its ethics and its ethos. It has always been different to the usual financial advice firm. Since founding, after a management buy-out in 2007, it has been fee-based and client-centric. Also, it has a strong commitment to supporting its staff through their qualifications – all of its 15 financial advisers are Chartered and eleven have gone on to become Fellows of the PFS.

“The team is different too – five of the advisers are women and the average age of the advisers in the firm is 38.”

He says he also likes that the directors are keen to invest in the company, whether that is in the staff, encouraging and supporting them in their personal development and gaining qualifications, or in employing technology to help staff better do their jobs. “Their enthusiasm for technology can be seen in their heavy involvement in the Intelligent Office community, for example, suggesting developments and improvements to the software,” Jonny says.

Setting out the goals

The goals Jonny has been set, he explains, “are to grow and develop the team, bring in new ideas and improve efficiencies and productivity for the company. Within that, I have my own vision for the team and making it a great place for people to work.

“The paraplanning team is very focussed, in that it is about the research, analysis and technical report writing support. There are separate teams for areas like admin, client service and data harvesting. As the cost base of paraplanners has been going up, I’ve seen many firms do it this way as they don’t want their paraplanners sitting on the phone collecting data, they want them doing what they do best.

“But what I want to avoid is a conveyor-belt approach to paraplanning. The scope of the work we do comes from across the breadth of the business, so it can range from dealing with ISAs to holistic financial planning. The LIFT-Sport side, for example, offers very different financial planning because professional sports people often have quite short careers and have to make their money last for a long time into the future.

“I don’t want the team to have a passive role, simply turning out reports to the instructions of the advisers. Paraplanners have a lot to offer and I want the team to be actively involved. I want to see them working closely with the advisers, giving input into cases and using their experience, because it will help get the best outcome for the client and it will make the job far more interesting for the paraplanner.

“I want there to be more engagement between the financial advisers and the paraplanners. With three offices it can be difficult for the paraplanners, who are based here in Altrincham, to see the advisers in London and Edinburgh, but I’d like to encourage better engagement over the phone and face-to-face with advisers based here. Also, while the graduates shadowing the advisers get to attend client meetings, currently that is not the case for the core team and I think they would also benefit from attending occasional meetings with clients where appropriate for the experience.”

Projects for 2018

Initially, Jonny says his focus will be on recruitment. “LIFT-Financial is successful and growing and my brief is to build a stable core team. So, I’ll be looking to bring in paraplanners across the range of experience and grow the paraplanning team to around seven or eight paraplanners, possibly more depending on company growth.”

He is also looking for someone in an admin/paraplanner support role. “This is an entry level role but the right candidate could become a paraplanner in due course given the support the company offers,” he says.

Another big project for 2018, which will help build a solid base for the growing team, will be to create a style guide to help bring consistency to the firm’s report writing. Marketing has brand guidelines and I’ll be looking to create something similar for paraplanning.

“Due to the work that paraplanners do, research, analysis and technical reports, often we are technical writers. And the way that financial services operates, with its jargon and compliance-focussed wording, can often be confusing to the client. In fact, the industry has been criticised for that. What I want to do is create a definitive style guide and bring in experts to talk to us about the way we write, so we can develop our writing skills and communicate in the best way possible with clients and we do so consistently.”

Alongside that project, Jonny says he will be looking at the paraplanning processes and to make them more efficient, including automating them where possible. “I’m not a fan of automating paraplanning, certainly not for the sake of it, but I think there are parts that can be automated to make them quicker, while keeping the process personalised for the client.

“The FCA has said there are three core things that must be in a report, the client’s objectives, what is being recommended and why, and any disadvantages of the recommended action(s). Clearly, that is where our main effort should be focused in our reports.”

Jonny says by the end of the year he would like to have recruited in the paraplanners he needs and to have the core team in place. “Above that, the style guide and tackling our report writing will be the big projects this year and I want to get the rest of the team involved in those. They will give us a solid basis on which to build.”

From engineer to paraplanner

Jonny began his working life as an engineer in the Merchant Navy. When he left the navy, in 2001, he first worked as a case administrator dealing with an historic business review for Royal London. He found the work suited him, “I liked the combination of maths and finance” and he took it upon himself to sit his FPC exams. Over the next few years, he progressed into compliance roles until, in 2007, he took his first paraplanning role.

“At that time paraplanning was just becoming defined as a role distinct from administration. I found a job with a generalist adviser firm, which recognised the need for paraplanners in the business and I stayed there for nearly four years,” he says. He then became senior paraplanner with a firm specialising in providing pre and post settlement advice to people who had received personal injury awards.

“It was interesting work and I stayed there for four years but it was niche and after a while I found I wanted to get back into broader financial services.”

His next move was to a financial services company that specialised in the non-advised sale of lifetime and fixed term annuities and ISAs. Jonny joined the company as the compliance manager. “It was a great opportunity and if it had taken off in the way it was expected to, I would have been right in there as a member of the senior management team from the start. Unfortunately, after about sixteen months it became part of another company. I stayed there for another 15 months but I realised what I actually liked doing was the paraplanning side of financial advice. So, I took the plunge and set up my own outsourced paraplanning business.”

This, he says, suited not only his desire to get back into paraplanning but allowed him the flexibility to successfully blend his work and family life.

Then, not even a year into the new business, the LIFT-Financial position came up. “The Head of Technical Support role offered the opportunity to use all my experience to date in a new role where I would have flexibility and responsibility to build the paraplanning team for the business. In addition, the ethos of the company around financial planning and the way it treats its staff, allowing flexible working, really appealed. It’s pretty much the perfect role for me and too good an opportunity to miss.”

What’s been a typical day thus far?

“I start the day early. We have flexible working between 7am and 7pm, workload permitting. The first thing I’ll do is plan my day, making sure I have all I need for meetings and for any interviews I may be doing.

I find I’m most productive in the mornings so, ideally, I will focus on any report writing I have to do early on in the day. I’ll try to arrange any meetings or interviews for the afternoons, as well as tackle any of the smaller jobs that need doing.

As you can probably imagine, being just a few weeks into the role, a lot of my time has been taken up with meetings as I’ve been learning about the company and working out what’s needed for the job. Also, because it is a new role, where I have been granted a lot of flexibility, there is a lot of planning involved.

Making sure I’m meeting with the team regularly and listening to what they have to say is also an important part of the job. We have formal team meetings on Monday morning and Friday to look at workload, workflow, and how we have done over the week.

As this year progresses, the project work will take up a large proportion of my time.

I think this will be a job that is always throwing up challenges, but in a good way.”

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