Para-Sols’ Cheryl Lunn – Administrator of the Year 2019
4 July 2019
Cheryl Lunn, operations co-ordinator at Para-Sols, beat off a competitive field to win the Administrator of the Year award at the 2019 Professional Paraplanner Awards. Rob Kingsbury spoke to her about her role and what it means to have won the award.
Cheryl Lunn had not worked in financial services before joining outsourced paraplanning firm Para-Sols in 2017. Now she is Operations Co-ordinator running a team of administrators for the company, including candidates coming through the Graduate programme as they begin their journey to becoming paraplanners.
“I learnt about financial services and the role through doing the job and a determination to find out about everything I could as I went along,” Cheryl says. “I’m one of those people that likes to ask questions. I’m not going to tick a box and say, ‘that’s filled in, that’s fine’. If there is something in front of me that I don’t understand I want to know not just the answer but why. I want to understand the back story for the next time it comes up.
“It also helped that I was immersed in paraplanning, sitting between a paraplanner and a graduate trainee so I was hearing the kinds of questions the graduate was asking and learning how they did things from their conversations, as well as just listening to what was going on around me.
Passion for spreadsheets
When Cheryl joined Para-Sols she was one of two administrators in the firm. One of the first things she did after was to see how the job could be streamlined and made easier both for her as an administrator and for the paraplanners.
“When I went for the interview for the job, I said that what I wanted was to help improve processes. I’m a great organiser and I love spreadsheets.
“As administrator we need to know what the paraplanners need to know. At Para-Sols, because we all work so closely together I was able to quickly get to know what was needed and why. I soon found that the providers weren’t great at giving us the information we wanted. So, I produced a sort of ‘Dummies Guide to…’ which initially was about ensuring the questions we were asking were the simplest we could to ensure we got the information we needed from the providers. That then evolved into a spreadsheet that not only ensured we were recording the right information from the providers but became a document which includes simple explanations of all the different features of financial services products.
“As such, it also became a good foundation for the graduates coming on board because it not only tells them what we are doing and what information we need but also why we need that information in the paraplanning process.”
Cheryl explains that the document now consists of several tabs, that starts with the client information like the fact find information which goes into a table that can put straight into a suitability report, through tabs for the different types of plans, followed by a number of summary tabs, such as for different funds the client is invested in and all the charges, pension policies and all the charges, and so on.
“So, the paraplanners can take the document for the client and see all the information they need, and they can take certain parts of the document, such as the data on the funds and charges, and copy it straight into the report. It’s designed to save a lot of time and effort.”
Setting up the admin process as a templated document means it can be tweaked whenever a tax change comes in or if the team wants to change the way the suitability reports look for clients.
Cheryl says she knew the basics of the spreadsheet software before joining the company, but again she has learnt on the job. “If I have an idea then I’ll run it by people and if it seems like it will work I’ll find out how to do it.”
Growing the team
Over her two years in the firm, as well as undertaking the process development Cheryl has been building the administration team. This now consists of six full-time administrators augmented for three-six month periods by graduates working their way through their training to become paraplanners. People management can be a bit of a challenge, so how has she tackled this side of the role?
“Having the procedures and processes in place makes it easier but I am a bit of a perfectionist and I know how I would like things to be done. So, if I’ve had a challenge it has been in adapting my way of training because everyone is different and is coming at it from a different level. It’s about being confident in what I want from them and then making sure I convey that in a way that they can understand and get to grips with it. It’s learning to adapt. It’s also about being there and for them to know there’s no such thing as a stupid question. We all start from somewhere and we are all learning, no matter what level we are at.”
Having learned on the job herself, Cheryl believes that can be the most direct and useful means of training. “The best way to learn, I feel, is to get stuck in. We give everyone some initial training and then we start giving them basic cases to work on. The procedures and processes help massively and I sit with them for the first few months so whatever they need when working on a case, I’m on hand to answer questions at any time. Then it’s a matter of building up from there.”
Winning the award
Cheryl didn’t know she had been nominated for the award until she was asked to be interviewed by the judges. “It came as a bit of a shock to be honest.”
“My background is working for large companies where you are a number on a seat. Para-Sols has been my big break. It has given me the opportunity to shine and the team has helped me massively. Had you told me three years ago what I would be doing today and that I would have won an award for it I wouldn’t have believed you. Winning the award has taken me a while to get my head around to be honest – it’s been pretty mind blowing.”