Rebecca Lucas, from Lime Outsourced Paraplanning, talks life as a female financial planner, technology and why empathy will always keep the robo-advice revolution at arm’s length.
Do you know what a paraplanner is and what they do? There are no official figures to show how many paraplanners are currently working in the UK, but estimates say there are around 2,000–9,000 paraplanners compared with 25,000 registered financial advisors. Paraplanning is a relatively new but growing line of work which is drawing young graduates and women into the financial services.
Rebecca Lucas, who has been working in the financial services since the early 2000s, set up her own paraplanning company, Lime Outsourced Paraplanning, in April 2013. Her company, which recently celebrated its sixth birthday, currently consists of her and another paraplanner.
Paraplanners do research, write reports and help financial advisors give the best possible service to their clients. Rebecca is an outsource paraplanner, so she doesn’t normally meet with clients face to face. Instead, she works on the technical side of things from the office.
“The first thing I tend to do is my to-do list, figure out what needs to be done and make a plan for the day,” Rebecca says, “I tend to do my report writing and research in the morning and then any proofreading in the afternoon. I also might get calls from people who are enquiring about paraplanning or wanting to use our services or existing clients who want to have a chat about the case or new types of works. That’s a typical day really.”
There have always been ‘behind the scenes’ jobs within financial advice, but paraplanning as a career path is still a fairly new and growing industry.
While the financial services as a whole still tend to be quite male dominant, Rebecca thinks that paraplanning has a more equal workforce: “When I go to paraplanning specific events, it’s probably 50% women and 50% men, which is really nice to see. The demographic is also quite a lot younger in paraplanning events,” she says.
While Rebcca has worked exclusively as a paraplanner for the last six years, she started her career in a bank, worked as an administrator and paraplanner and became a financial adviser in 2004, at the age of 24. What was it like to be a young woman working in the financial advice industry back then?
Despite feeling the need to prove herself more than her older colleagues, Rebecca doesn’t feel that being female held her back or meant she was treated differently.
“When I worked as part of a team I always felt like an equal part,” she explains. “In the early days, I tended to be the only female in the team but I’ve never felt anyone treated me any differently.”
Rebecca used to be the only woman in the room, but things are changing. “I know when I worked for a large national IFA there weren’t many women at all. In the office I worked in, there were maybe 10 of us and I was the only woman. I definitely see now, going to conferences and things, there are a lot more women and it looks like there are a lot more young women getting into advising.”
Are more women going into financial advice because it is becoming more accessible? In some ways, according to Rebecca, the financial services are harder to get into at entry level.
“I think there are more opportunities for graduates coming in, but in other ways there are probably fewer opportunities,” she says, “20 years ago you had life offices like Standard Life and Aviva, they all had local offices in all the different towns and people would start off working there and then they’d work their way up and they’d often become financial advisors. You don’t tend to see that as much now. In some ways, there are more graduate routes in, but in other ways, there aren’t these life offices which would train people up.”
The early 2000’s were not that long ago in the grand scheme of things, but the way we work has changed almost beyond recognition. Rebecca remembers what it was like working without cloud sharing.
“Back in the day when I started paraplanning in 2001, you had actual big paper files,” she says, “so if you wanted a file, there was a chance someone might have taken it to a meeting or taken it home with them. Nowadays, everything is on the cloud and multiple people can access the cloud file at the same time. That’s really helpful.”
Will human financial advisors eventually be replaced with robots and artificial intelligence, or do you need to be a human being to understand other people’s motivations and desires when it comes to their finances?
If robots aren’t going to take over the financial services industry, what does the future hold for the sector?
“I see maybe more people needing financial advice as things go on,” Rebecca says, “as people live longer and they have a need for things like long term care planning and the value of the assets go up, there’s going to be more need for things like inheritance tax planning and general tax planning.”