Sally Plant, head of Financial Planning, CISI, talks to Rob Kingsbury about her remit, her ‘wish list’ and why she thinks financial planning is about to see a period of organic growth.
Working for haute couture designer Alexander McQueen may seem a long way from paraplanning and becoming head of Financial Planning at the CISI “but actually, it gave me a sound grounding in working in a very small team – I was a junior member, essentially a runner, so it gave me exposure to all the different parts of the company,” Sally Plant says. “It enabled me to see the bigger picture while working on the detail, which is not dissimilar to the paraplanning role and my new role at the CISI.”
Sally sees paraplanning as a specialist role and one which is highly influential within financial planning businesses. “It’s not that paraplanning is becoming recognised as an influential role and increasingly one with greater responsibility, I would say it is now recognised for the critical part it plays in delivering service excellence to clients. I think that is not always recognised outside of firms but as we’ve seen development of professional outsourced paraplanning businesses that has helped emphasise the importance of paraplanning within the profession. Also that it is a standalone career, with defined progression pathways for those with ambition,” she says.
“I see it this way, no client will stay with a financial planning firm if the service isn’t good and it’s the paraplanners that help create that service proposition. That’s a fact. If a client doesn’t feel the process is seamless and they’re getting the right communication and the right level of service, they are not going to stay with you.
“The paraplanning role is critical for taking a business from ‘okay’ to ‘excellent’. Unless you are excellent you won’t get referrals and everyone knows that referrals are the best way to grow a business.”
From fashion to paraplanning
Tracing Sally’s career from high fashion to her current role, after leaving Alexander McQueen – “it’s the kind of industry which is so intense it takes over your life, particularly at a junior level” – she joined a trade finance company and then the NHS. There she met Simon Culhane, who, after becoming CEO of the CISI, brought Sally in, where she worked on many projects. That was in 2005. She stayed with the professional body until 2016, playing an integral part in building the Institute’s early relationships in the Middle East, as well as working with the CISI’s major clients in the UK, both wholesale and retail. In her last role as head of Education Development, Sally was part of the CISI’s executive team and responsible for expanding the Institute’s schools, university and apprenticeship programmes.
A working mum and looking for a role closer to home, Sally joined Robur Wealth Management, a partner practice to St James’s Place Wealth Management, where, again as part of a small team, her role was a broad one, including paraplanning, business development and some office management. “My remit included paraplanning – so the technical elements and putting together all the illustrations and suitability letters and so on – streamlining the client process, organising client reviews, reconfiguring the client packs and what should be in them, hosting events, initiating projects to bring in new leads, and general office management. It was a typical small business team set up where everyone pitched in where needed.”
Now back at the CISI as head of Financial Planning, Sally says her remit is twofold, “plus my own wish list”.
“Overall, I’m looking to grow the number of professionals with Certified Financial PlannerTM (CFP) status and to serve our financial planning membership, offering them something that is innovative and fresh – which can be along the lines of new programmes, CPD, and the way we promote them and our Accredited firms to the consumer.
“As a qualification, Certified Financial PlannerTM has the capability to change the way people approach their job and financial planning – and that includes financial planners and paraplanners – as well as the outcomes for clients, and all for the better. It has created a fabulous community of people who are a joy to talk to and work with.”
Sally explains that she believes we are seeing a change in the way financial advice and planning is viewed, in part accelerated by the unprecedented effects of the Covid -19 pandemic, which is focussing people’s attention far less on performance of investments and far more on their life goals and what they want to achieve with their wealth. “The pandemic and the knock on effect on the economy, their business or job role, has made things less certain and perhaps made clients less sure whether the goals they had are still the ones they want to pursue,” she says.
“There are so many macro events happening in the global economy, including the pandemic and the impact of Brexit, that clients are wanting to talk bigger picture and how it is going to affect them.”
In that respect, she argues the CFP is perfectly positioned “as the only qualification out there that truly helps the planner and paraplanner approach clients from the perspective of goals-based, holistic financial planning. Undoubtedly, the CFP has cornered that area in the qualifications market. That is a big statement, but I see this as a very exciting time for the CFP.”
In terms of bringing something fresh to the financial planning membership, Sally says the CISI has created a series of Master classes and a new programme called Elevate. “Elevate is aimed at financial planners and paraplanners who have been in the sector for a few years to help take them to the next level in their learning journey.”
Also lined up for paraplanners in 2021, is the annual Paraplanner Conference, which this year takes place on 19-20 May and will be a virtual conference as per last year, including presentations from the FCA and including sessions on technical knowledge and soft skills.
Partnership is also on Sally’s agenda. “The CISI is very much a partnership-based organisation, so we will also be looking at which groups we can partner with as we look to promote a high level of ethics and competency within the profession.”
On the wish list Sally mentioned, is delivering “something dear to my heart,” she says. “That is engaging with younger people so they realise that financial planning and paraplanning are careers with long term prospects, and engaging with consumers on a much bigger scale not just to fill the advice gap but to help to drive them towards financial planning at a much earlier age than people typically do today.”
The CISI already operates the Wayfinder tool, which is a consumer-focussed website dedicated to explaining and promoting financial planning, as well as working with networks of universities and schools. Part of Sally’s role, she says, will be to add a stronger financial planning stream into those networks, including the launch of a Graduate programme to help smaller financial planning firms “attract bright young talent into the profession” while also enabling the professional body to go out to universities with a more comprehensive pathway to offer.
Asked what she feels her greatest challenge will be in her new role, Sally says emphatically: “Time.”
She adds: Coming into this role, at what I see as an exciting time to be a financial planner or paraplanner, I want to do everything now, which clearly isn’t possible. So it’s prioritising the various initiatives we want to do and progressing them in a structured way, so we achieve what we want to achieve
“It’s also ensuring I’m always learning – staying in touch with what is important to our membership and the profession in general – while I’m delivering everything we want to for our members.
“I think the time is right for the CISI, CFP and what we do. As I mentioned, as we come out of the pandemic I think people are looking at financial planning from a new perspective and that things are going to grow organically. My role is to help with that, through educating on the CISI and the CFP, through promotion of financial planning, and through opening people’s eyes to what financial planners and paraplanners do as a career opportunity. It’s going to be an inspiring time.”