How to get into the financial planning profession

I remember being asked in Year 11 at school during a career talk what I would like to do when I was older. Lots of aspirations flitted through my mind… a vet, a hairdresser, I even thought about becoming a mechanic (doing it for the girls!) but never did I think I would end up working in the Financial Services industry.  This was not because I didn’t want to, it just never crossed my mind.  Throughout my school years, we were never taught how to deal with our future finances once we were working, and retirement planning, investment, and protection planning were never discussed.  The Financial Services Industry (and in particular Financial Planning) was completely unknown to me.

I fell into Financial Planning by chance. I just wanted to get into the world of work and there was an opportunity waiting for me not far from where I lived as a client support administrator for a small boutique IFA. I really loved it. It all started with tasks such as scanning the post, calling providers, greeting clients for meetings, and answering the telephone. Not only did I get an insight into the world of work, but I began to hear new and different terminology – ‘rebalancing’, ‘benefit crystallisation events’,’ lifetime allowances’, ‘capital gains tax’ – what did it all mean? This was when Google started to come into its own for me – what a saviour!

After about 18 months, I decided to venture into London and I worked for another IFA firm where I had greater opportunities.   It was here that I decided to start studying towards my Award in Financial Administration. There were many others around me who had ambitions to become Financial Planners and studied towards the Diploma in Financial Planning with the CII. Because of this, I learned a lot from my peers and the team I was working with, and I believe this is key to your career development.

You don’t have to get into the industry the way I did. Many people hear from other friends and relatives about the industry or through work experience programmes. Quite a few firms now have entry-level positions which require a degree in maths or a related subject, alongside team-working and analytics skills. Good old Google is a great starting point if you really don’t have anyone you know of in this industry.

After nearly 18 years of working in Financial Planning, I am still constantly learning and evolving. No day is the same and importantly no client is the same.  The work is continually changing and challenging me as there is new legislation to learn and understand, and the vagaries of financial markets and economic conditions to keep up to date with too.

Looking back on my own experience to date, my advice to others would be that you would first need to be open about what you want to do and where you want to go in your career. It is OK not to know where you want to be in 10 years’ time, but having short-term achievable goals and aspirations is the way to go. If you have a good supportive employer, they will encourage you no matter what route you decide to take – whether that is to progress from working in Client Support to becoming a Paraplanner or a Financial Adviser, moving into a management role or specialising in one area such as pensions or compliance, it is always beneficial to know you have options.

Some people prefer to work at the same firm for a long period of time, and others prefer to work in small, medium, and large advisory firms to get that variety and exposure that you may not get from another. I have worked in all three and whilst you do have options on how far you want to progress in your career, I much prefer the small to medium-sized firms – but it’s just a personal choice.

A good quality Client Support assistant needs to be thorough, open, honest, personable, a good communicator, and super-organised. You are there to assist your Financial Planner and Paraplanner with anything from calling a provider to request information to prepare for a client meeting. Clients will often lean on you for help and support when their Financial Planner may not be around. Whilst you may not be qualified to give financial advice, you need to know how to handle their query as best you can and reassure them you will arrange for someone to come back to them with an answer to their query.    

A good quality Paraplanner needs to be highly skilled so they can provide the best support to their Financial Planner. They need to have a great foundation of knowledge, be meticulous and analytical, enjoy research and be able to source information when it’s not readily available. They need to revel in the detail and be an enthusiastic problem solver too. This is not something that can be learned from a book.   It needs to be built up and learned over time by attending client meetings, extra technical reading, attending seminars, watching webinars and, importantly, working with peers on different client cases.

A good quality Financial Planner needs to have a passion for Financial Planning and Wealth Management with a deep analytical ability. Not every client situation is simple, there are many complexities you need to work through so you can give the client the best financial advice possible. They need to put their clients’ interests and needs at the heart of everything they do for them.   Strong communication is key – both speaking and listening, the latter being super-important.  They must also be trustworthy, have compassion and be personable. It is also useful to speak with your peers and bounce of ideas off of one another, as there will be different views and approaches to the way others do things. Financial Planners are not always great at administration, so they rely heavily on a good Client Support colleague to help them, as well as their Paraplanner.

I can truly say I have thoroughly enjoyed my career so far. I still have many other career routes available to me should I want to go down them – the sky is the limit!

Kim Welch – Senior Financial Planning Assistant

This article is distributed for educational purposes and should not be considered investment advice or a recommendation of any particular security, strategy, or investment product.