New VoicesMay 12 2023

GCSEs are enough to have successful paraplanning career

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GCSEs are enough to have successful paraplanning career
Founder of the Paraplan Project, Sasha Wakefield

Sasha Wakefield, founder of the Paraplan Project, has called for better financial education in schools and said more needs to be done to show young people that it is possible to build a successful career without going to university.

Wakefield, who has worked in financial services since leaving school at the age of 16, recently set up her own outsourced paraplanning firm. 

Based in Essex, the Paraplan Project now employees three people and offers services to advice firms across the UK. 

From Wiltshire initially, Wakefield admits that before getting into financial services she dreamed of being a vet, but after doing her GCSEs and getting a role as a cashier in a bank she began to pivot.

Soon after, she moved into the platform space where she spent eight years before deciding to make the switch into paraplanning.

“I didn’t know anything about finance at that point. I remember the first day when I started working at the platform, I had not long turned 18 and I didn’t know what an Isa was. That’s how little I knew. 

“No one in my family had come from that background, so it was all very different to me. The individuals I was mixing with were very different to people in my hometown and school,” Wakefield said.

They asked me ‘what qualifications do you have’ and I think they were quite surprised when I said GCSEs.

On her decision to move into paraplanning, Wakefield said: “It just got to the point where I needed something a bit more challenging. Someone on my team was talking about paraplanning and it sounded quite geeky and technical and I said I want to find out more, that sounds perfect.”

From there, Wakefield began to properly explore what was involved in paraplanning and has now been working in the paraplanning profession for more than four years. 

“I absolutely love it. There’s nothing that I can imagine doing apart from paraplanning, I think I’ve found my calling,” Wakefield told FTAdviser.

But starting out, Wakefield was surprised how difficult it was to get into it.

She began working in a local administration role and made it her goal to move into a paraplanning role within a year while studying for her diploma at the same time. 

She also used this time to build a strong relationship with the paraplanner in her firm. 

“When cases would come across I would be that annoying person asking questions and trying to build up my knowledge as organically as possible.

“I’m quite stubborn so if there is something I want to do I’ll do everything I can to achieve that goal,” Wakefield said.

Being a good employer

True to her word, she moved into a paraplanner position within the year and just under four years later set up the Paraplan Project.

"I set it up with the mission that we would really try and add value through the paraplanning service we provide," Wakefield explained.

Typically, the value of paraplanning is through reports for planners and advisers, but Wakefield said she wanted to do more and create a more collaborative relationship between planner and paraplanner - where both can bounce ideas off each other in the best interest of clients.

Reflecting on the Paraplan Project so far, Wakefield said it has been challenging but a great learning curve.

“Although it wasn’t paraplanning related that next challenge for me really was about employing people and making sure that I can deliver the values that I wanted as an employee and be able to reflect that in their employment as well," she said.

When Wakefield thinks about what experience she wants her staff at the Paraplan Project to have, the first thing she says is “open and honest”. 

“For a lot of people in the profession that are moving roles, a lot of it drills down to communication. It’s so simple but it's really just understanding what you want from staff and what that employee wants from a firm.

Wakefield explained that as part of the recruitment process she included some technical tests around maths and writing ability. 

For one of the questions, she asked candidates to describe their dream day-to-day in a paraplanning role. 

"That really allowed me as an employer to think am I going to be able to fulfil this person's needs and wants from the role," Wakefield said.

“So if that individual was to come on board we would both understand what we want from each other in the long-term.

"I appreciate people's circumstances change and they might want different challenges as they go through their career, but I think having that honesty straight away allows me to really adapt the role so they feel fulfilled and I can get the best out of them. It is a win-win really.” 

Financial education

Wakefield believes it is important that more young people know a route into a successful career exists outside of doing A-levels and going to university. 

“I have previously run a few education sessions as part of a Chartered Insurance Institute initiative and when I went into the schools and delivered some of the sessions, I was talking to the students after and they were all very much focused on getting degrees and still weren’t very sure what they wanted to do. They asked me ‘what qualifications do you have’ and I think they were quite surprised when I said GCSEs.

“So I think it’s trying to educate the younger generation but also as well, for those that are in other industries and looking to move into the profession to say to them actually you don’t need to have a certain education level, you don’t need to come from a certain background. 

“What you need is passion for what you do and if you have passion for the financial services profession that really goes a long way and I think you will be successful,” Wakefield said.

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