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On the right course

31 January 2019

Jade Mountford, chartered paraplanner with Mazars Financial Planning scooped the PFS Paraplanner of the Year 2018 award. She talked to Rob Kingsbury about what that entailed and how she has been encouraged to step out of her comfort zone

Winner of this year’s PFS Paraplanner of the Year award Jade Mountford, chartered paraplanner with Mazars Financial Planning, has been a paraplanner since leaving university in 2014.

She attended the Manchester Metropolitan University financial planning course, the degree established by the university and supported by the then Institute of Financial Planning, passing with First Class Honours.

She says the degree course was sound grounding for her career in financial planning, as all the units were based around RO units, covering areas such as ethics, investment, pensions, tax, as well as mixing in with accountancy and finance courses for some units. It gave her credits towards RO exams, so tied in neatly with her further education after the course, she adds. “It gave me everything I needed to start a career in financial planning.”

Yet, Jade reveals she had originally decided on an accountancy course at the University. But at the university’s open day she heard a talk from the financial planning course director about what it entailed and she decided there and then it was the course for her.

From admin to paraplanning

Leaving university in 2014 Jade obtained her first job straight away with Capelin Financial Management, which she joined as an Assistant Financial Planner. The role brought her into the company at an administration level , which included data input, keeping the CRM system up-to-date, organising meetings with clients, taking phone calls for new leads, gathering information, sending out letters of authority and so forth – “I was involved in a bit of everything” – but she quickly progressed into a paraplanning role – writing suitability reports and attending client meetings. “This was very good introduction for someone starting out in the industry because I wasn’t just seeing names and numbers on the page, I got to meet the clients as people and see what the outcomes of the advice was,” Jade says.

Jade obtained her Level 6 qualification in late 2016, when she became a Chartered Financial Planner at the firm, and her role changed from pure paraplanning to at first taking a more active role in client meetings and then taking on some existing clients for general advice.

In April 2018, Jade made the move to Mazars, working in the firm’s Birmingham office. She says that having been at Capelin for close to four years she felt that in terms of her career, it was time to move on and expand her experience of financial planning, as well as her paraplanning experience.

“Paraplanning can be different depending on the company you work for, so I looked for somewhere where I could grow and become an even better paraplanner,” she says.

“Also, I didn’t feel I was ready to take on a financial planning role and be an adviser full time. There was more I wanted to do to expand my knowledge and experience.”

As well as Level 6 Jade has a raft of exams under her belt, including AF7 pensions transfers – she is authorised to undertake pensions transfer work – which means that along with other senior members of the team she deals with more complex cases, working directly for one of the partners Sarah Lord, who specialises in business owners and international clients, primarily UK citizens who are living abroad.

Jade’s role at Mazars is very much a behind-the-scenes technical role. She no longer attends client meetings, something she says she does miss to an extent for the human contact and seeing the client outcomes. She says she is glad to have had that background of client contact, “because when I’m writing reports and paraplanning I can think of the client at the end of the process,” but adds the work she is involved with at Mazars, because of its complex nature, is engaging and she gets a huge amount of job satisfaction from her role.

“I suppose what I like about being a paraplanner is fixing problems. It’s about researching, finding the best way to do things and I find all the technical side really interesting. As a paraplanner you have to want to find out why and go into the details to get the best outcome for the client.”

Entering the PFS award

The PFS Paraplanner of the Year is the first award Jade has entered, so to walk away with the award at her first attempt is an impressive achievement.

It wasn’t that she didn’t want to enter awards before, rather that the nature of her role meant she was too busy to dedicate time to it. However, Mazars encourages its staff to put themselves forward and progress not just in terms of their qualifications but also in their experience and their contribution to the financial planning profession.

To enter the PFS award, Jade says, she had first to write a 500-word article about what made her become a paraplanner and her commitment towards the paraplanning community. This was followed by a technical case study – which included a client situation and problems to solve, mainly business financial planning.

“It was a hard case and it took a long time to get it finished,” she says. “My entry was over 20 30  pages long and on and off it took me three weeks to complete.”

As it was her first award, while Jade hoped she might win, she says “I was still shocked when they called out my name.”

Jade also took part in the PFS Purely Paraplanning conference in Birmingham, sitting on a panel with two other practitioners, talking about suitability report writing. One of her Mazars colleagues was on the panel in London so she put herself forward to get involved with the Birmingham event.

“I was nervous,” she admits, “but it was a subject I knew about so once I got on stage and people started asking questions about how we approach report writing I was alright.

“I have received a lot of encouragement from colleagues and Anne Hopkins my paraplanning manager, which has made me step outside of my comfort zone, but in a good way.”

Jade has also joined the CII Education Champions programme, which is voluntary and encourages financial advice professionals to go into schools and colleges and talk to 15-18 year olds about finance and to promote the profession.

“It’s giving back and helping others see the potential of a career in financial planning too. You can do as much or as little as you like. “

Joining the programme, she explains, entailed attending a morning course run by the CII, where she learned how to use a board game to raise awareness of finances and the concepts of savings, risk, pensions and investments.

“I think we need to do this kind of thing both for the students’ personal awareness of finances and also the future of the sector. We need new people in the industry and most people don’t know that it exists. It’s like sowing seeds for the future.”

Planner or paraplanner?

Jade is five points off becoming a Fellow of the PFS, so currently is focussed on attaining that accolade, after which, she says, “I’d love to do a master’s degree, or the STEP qualification.”

To date the Mazars role has delivered what she wanted it to do. “Since I’ve been here I’ve been stretched and I’ve learned a lot more and progressed a lot. I think learning different ways of doing things is really good for your experience as a paraplanner and making you look at things in different ways to find that best outcome. It also makes the job interesting.

“Also, as a paraplanner you’ve got to be driven to learn more. It’s important to keep learning and to keep abreast of things because things change so much. But you’ve got to enjoy it too,” she says. “You’ve got to have that passion for the job.”

So, will she become a financial planner or stay a paraplanner?

“When I first joined the industry I thought I’d like to be a planner but since coming to Mazars, where I’ve met career paraplanners, I can see myself being a paraplanner for a long time. You should never say never, but I do really enjoy what I am doing now, the technical side of things, and I think it would be hard to step away from that now.”