What Advisors Should Know When It’s Time to Grow

Paraplanners help free up time for frazzled advisors so that they can focus on bigger tasks. The dos and don’ts of hiring.

(Illustration by II)

(Illustration by II)

Michelin star chefs don’t squander their precious time polishing windows and sliding napkins into rings. So why should busy financial advisors tend to every mind-numbing aspect of their business, especially when looking to expand?

Whether realized in an epiphany or after a long spell of excruciating deliberation, there comes a time when many an advisor fully accepts that they need help. It can be dizzying to digest though.

Bringing on help often requires being in an intimate work environment, which makes finding the right hire all the more important. Trust, reliability and temperament are crucial aspects that must be considered but whose outcome will only be revealed later.

An advisor also needs to determine the complexity of the work they need help with. Basic administrative tasks might be all that’s required. More experienced paraplanners, however, can handle advanced tasks that an advisor ordinarily deals with, such as preparing financial plans. Over time, some paraplanners can even take over client relationships.

In short, a good paraplanner will free up an advisor’s schedule so that she can work more productively. That often means spending more time with valuable clients and seeking larger accounts. Here are three things advisors should consider before posting a help wanted ad.

Is the firm rushing into hiring someone?

Advisors should look closely and critically at who they are interviewing and not see what they want to see. Advisors should also schedule follow-up interviews if they have lingering doubts about personal chemistry. And sleeping on a big decision never hurt anyone. (Editor’s note: Our dog might disagree as he once rolled off the bed during the night.)

Jason Speciner, Founder of Financial Planning Fort Collins, says it’s essential to determine if a firm actually needs a paraplanner, or if hiring for an entirely different position is best “considering your skills as an adviser.” Speciner recommends that advisors think big picture when considering their firm’s needs for today and the future.
“It seems like there’s an overriding theme that a paraplanner or admin type should always be the first hire,” says Speciner. “Make your hires meaningful for yourself and your business by creating purposeful team growth based on your needs.”

In the ad for the position, the more an advisor can describe in detail what is expected, the better the odds of hiring the right person. A more detailed job description also leaves less to chance and is a great way to manage expectations. If certain responsibilities aren’t in the job posting, the new employer could later feel resentful.

What is the firm’s time worth?

Workflow management, back office documentation, and the scheduling of meetings and appointments have historically all been in a day’s work for advisors. Need they be? If an advisor’s time could be better spent doing other things, a paraplanner might make sense.

Chesney says it’s crucial that advisors be brutally honest in assessing the value of their time. “The appropriate time to hire a paraplanner, or really any other support, is when your time is more valuable doing something else,” says Chesney.

“That might include business development, client meetings, or even spending time with family,” says Chesney. “Should an advisor spend his or her time collecting documents and entering data into a financial planning program?” she asks. “Or would that time be better spent on higher value services to their client, such as developing strategies and building/maintaining client relationships?”

Is the volume cranked up to 11?

It’s important that advisors be realistic about how much work needs to be done and what an RIA is capable of handling. Andi McNamara, Director of Financial Planning at Wingate Wealth Advisors, says her firm hired a paraplanner last fall to join their team of planners, which includes McNamara and another part-time planner.

The firm, however, first hired an experienced planner before a paraplanner “because the volume of planning was so great, I did not have time to train a paraplanner,” she says. “I needed someone who could jump right in with no oversight. Once the work was manageable, we were able to bring on a person with less experience that we could both train and mentor.”

While concrete considerations generally drive the decision to hire a paraplanner, Susan Chesney, Owner and Principal of Denver-based Delegated Planning, says one underappreciated benefit that paraplanners provide is fresh perspective. “Having a second set of eyes,” is helpful and “having multiple perspectives allows for more creative solutions.”

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