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One and done: We talk to Parmenion’s Laura Barnes

30 April 2021

Rob Kingsbury spoke to the Parmenion’s Laura Barnes about the company’s ethos, how it works and, most importantly, how it looks to support paraplanners and make their lives easier

“What I’m interested in is the people in an advice business,” says Laura Barnes, head of intermediary distribution, Parmenion. “I’m here to ensure we nurture the relationships with have with adviser firms, including the paraplanners. One of the things that struck me when I first came to Parmenion last year, is that as a company we ‘get’ paraplanners, what they do and what they are about.”

Laura was recruited to Parmenion in 2020, into the specifically and newly created role, having worked in senior distribution roles for the likes of Aegon, Cofunds and AXA Wealth.

“Parmenion is a very people focussed environment; by that I mean there is a focus here on putting the people who use our functionality at the heart of things.

“I’ve worked in the industry for a long time and I know that can be easy to say but harder to do, especially on a consistent basis. But we realise that it’s those who on a day-to-day basis are using our systems and services who we need to be supporting and engaging with, not just the business owners.

“We also know that the experience of the end client, the one ultimately we are all focussed on, is made better by us giving a delightful service to paraplanners. And we choose our words carefully.”

This focus, Laura explains, has been driven by the realisation that since RDR, the financial planning world has evolved, notably in terms of the influence of paraplanners in advice businesses. “Now paraplanners are providing that core support, so the adviser can focus on seeing the client and the business owner can focus on running the business. When we think about engagement with a firm, whether from my team or when we are developing something in a co-creation environment, we involve paraplanners, so we understand what they need and they understand what we are doing and why.”

It’s also a matter of knowing where the value lies in the service Parmenion is providing, she adds. Parmenion combines discretionary managed investments, a platform and proprietary technology with excellent customer service offered as a comprehensive solution for advice firms.

“We focus on the overall experience. What’s popular and what’s positive about us is the way we manage the whole central investment proposition for someone, which helps to reduce risk, reduce cost and create value. We are significantly more efficient to deal with because we have developed our own technology, which means we can be far more dynamic and responsive than others in the market. That’s one side of things.

“The other side is looking at how our clients use the process, and asking that question of them, so that as we develop what we do, their input informs how we put in the building blocks in terms of the user journey. We are thinking constantly about the customer experience and how we can achieve a ‘one and done’ approach to the user experience.

“So, it’s really important to us that we keep in touch with people working in the adviser businesses, so we get the right answer to take into account when we are developing what we offer. Which is why, for any development we do, the proposition team will want to involve a range of advisers and a range of paraplanners in the process.”

Practical support

“To really provide the kind of service that we want for paraplanners, it’s no good just my team understanding the role of the paraplanner, it’s really important that everyone in the business understands what our customer want from us,” Laura explains.

“And equally important, is that when paraplanners need support, they know exactly where to go to get it.” That can be the relevant business development manager (BDM) or a member of the customer service team.

“Our customer service team is incredibly efficient. I want to make sure that paraplanners know which is the best conduit to get the information they need to get on with job they are doing.

“Wherever we can we are looking to provide that ‘one and done’ approach. We don’t want people being passed around in a loop to get the information they need.”

As an example of that approach, Laura describes how during the pandemic her team changed its style of engagement, moving from promotion of the company “to ensuring we were supporting our customers in the way they wanted”. Hence, in response to virtual working which came in as the Covid-19 pandemic evolved, Parmenion rapidly adopted use of digital signatures, in the form of DocuSign.

“We introduced the process to help advice firms keep working with their clients and putting through documents. But then we thought, ‘how is this going to work in the future?’. It was clear digital signature wasn’t going to go away once lockdown ended, so we didn’t want it to be solely a point-of-sale process where the paraplanners and administrators then had to revert to a paper-based process. So we delivered change in two phases. First was the client-facing end and then in September 2020, we delivered the downstream process used by the back-office. And now we are looking at how we make that process even easier for advice businesses by expanding from an SMS verification system that only goes to an adviser’s phone, to also include a designated landline and email, so the paraplanner is not relying on getting in touch with the adviser to get on with their work. That’s how we are developing and looking to make a difference: one and done again.”

Company ethos

It’s the focus on people and that financial planning as a  business is personal, which drives the ethos of Parmenion as a company and how people think in the business, Laura explains. “We are working on the ground to achieve the right outcomes, but we try to avoid a head office mentality. You can see this in the language that we use. We do less of listing general principles we want to adhere to and we do more about making them real. When we say ‘We want to be best loved’ in our central strategy, that is not a typical corporate expression. Similarly, as I said before, that we want to deliver a ‘delightful experience’ to paraplanners. The language reflects our fundamental values and what we want to achieve.

“Importantly, having our values as a business aligned to what we want to deliver to the customer on the ground, keeps us accountable and clear on our purpose.”

On a practical level, she says, it’s asking constantly, ‘What about the customer’. “It’s about how the customer will feel about what we are delivering and how we deliver it. Because service is about feel. You can’t tell someone ‘we deliver a great service’ because they will have an individual experience and they have to feel we deliver a great experience.”

That’s all well and good for those who use the service but how do you convey the feel of it to those who don’t? “That’s where advocacy via our adviser and paraplanner users, and through the ranking and commentary we receive in third party reports from the likes of the lang cat and The Platforum, comes in,” she says.

What the new owner means

In March 2021, Parmenion announced its new owner would be Preservation Capital Partners (PCP), a London-based private equity firm, with a track record of long-term investment into growth businesses. At time of writing the acquisition is subject to regulatory approval.

PCP have bought into Parmenion’s proposition and ethos and that is not going to change, Laura says. “What this means for the business is that we are now masters of our own destiny. We can realise our potential. So, we are focussing on the retirement market where the changing legislative environment means we will expand our capability to meet that need. We also have fantastic data warehouse capability and it’s how we use that data to help advisers and paraplanners run their businesses is where we can make a difference for them. Because of the nature of our business, we can help them look at what they have and monitor it differently, and that’s critical to support ongoing PROD requirements and business management.

“We recently launched Vantage, which is a data dashboard giving advice firms information in a visual way that is easy to access. It provides them with a range of factors, including client base, average age, amounts invested, the risk grades clients select and the investment solutions and tax wrappers they favour.

“This will help them make informed decisions about their business, in particular highlighting the risks and opportunities.

“So, what people can expect of us now is more of the same, both in our current services and where we take things next, with no fundamental change to what we do, in particular our ethos and engagement with paraplanners.”

Laura talks more about Vantage HERE.

This article was first published in the May 2021 issue of Professional Paraplanner.

Professional Paraplanner