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From little acorns great oak trees grow

In a competitive market, any growing financial planning firm would be optimistic to expect a ready stream of fully qualified advisers available to boost its ranks when needed.

Similarly, those individuals entering the market as graduates, and paraplanners looking to become financial planners, are not looking at reams of employers offering the opportunities to meet their goals.

As an employer, two of the things you are looking for when selecting graduates to apprentice into your firm are, rather obviously, an interest in finance and an appetite for further study, because there will be a lot of that initially. The qualifications needed to attain paraplanner status are onerous and relentless, and you need to support your staff in carrying out that study – with some programme of mentoring and, of course, allowing time for study leave and sitting exams.

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Similarly, when taking on fully qualified advisers, you are looking for those with skills to nurture and develop the careers of those in their team – be it administrative staff or paraplanners. These are not just support staff to do your bidding, but essential personnel in the whole financial planning service.

A growing or expanding firm has to get in place the right levels of staff supporting and succeeding other staff. It cannot be done overnight, nor can it be done by everyone. You need the right people with the right team attitude.

It may be the case that an adviser can make or break the career prospects of their graduate trainees or paraplanners. But it can be the case that an unsupported paraplanner will impact on the adviser’s planning for their client.

From the outset, when interviewing graduates, it is important to talk to them about becoming trainee advisers. Thereafter, it is a good idea to put a training programme in place and provide a mentor to support recruits across the board in terms of their training, study and well-being.

Many financial planning firms are retreating into the high-net-worth advised space or other niches. But even firms with a traditional high-net-worth and employee benefits client base nevertheless have to have a vision to widen access to advice. This necessitates services beyond the traditional high-net-worth face-to-face relationship by engaging in workplace-based advice, working in partnership with large public limited companies and developing systems to support the services of staff to provide that.

This, of course, requires a whole range of staff to meet the myriad needs of individuals. The paraplanners and advisers or financial planners of the future – the long-term future – also have to see the opportunities to advise on all levels and be flexible in the offerings they can make. Clearly, with larger firms this can be handled in divisions – but even smaller firms can achieve it with the requisite organisational skills and comprehensive financial planning attitude of its staff.

The process of widening access to financial advice means developing ways of working that will enable advisers and clients to combine the best of digital technology with human empathy and understanding to deliver quality advice. That is what will be increasingly required of existing IFAs and younger and budding IFAs looking to develop their careers. It is just a case of the right firm and the right advisers finding each other.