Jennifer Pritchard, CFP®, has what many would consider a dream job in financial planning. After graduating from Texas Tech University with a degree in Personal Financial Planning, she worked for a few different local financial planning firms before landing her current role as a 100% virtual paraplanner for three different advisors across the country.
Her role as a virtual paraplanner is unique in that she is able to learn from three very different advisors simultaneously and attend meetings with a wide variety of clientele all from the comfort of her home.
In our interview, Jennifer discusses how she found the perfect job, breaks down her responsibilities for us, talks about her business structure and describes the ideal candidate for a job as a virtual paraplanner. Additionally, we discuss some of the benefits of hiring and working virtually and how her job as a virtual paraplanner is preparing her to be a well-rounded financial planner in the future.
I am so excited to tell your story on Simply Paraplanner! Can you tell me a little about your background and how you started working as a virtual paraplanner?
I started my career in financial planning by going through the Personal Financial Planning degree program at Texas Tech University. While at Texas Tech, I had the opportunity to gain a wide variety of experience with three different companies through internships. Once I graduated, I went to work for a traditional RIA and found myself a town that I didn’t fit in with and in an admin type position. I then moved to Houston, TX where I worked for another RIA that was focused on investments. I was hired to improve the financial planning side of the business but quickly found out that it’s hard to implement financial planning in a firm that believes Alpha is their main value to clients.
During all of this, I was listening to the XYPN Radio podcast and was learning about retainer fees and working virtually. I ended up reaching out to one of the advisors who is a member of XYPN to find out if it was possible for me to start my own firm. I quickly realized that I was in no position, financially or with experience, to start my own firm. This advisor introduced me to two other advisors who expressed that they wanted to hire someone but none of them could hire someone full-time. We concluded that if all three of them hired me as part-time, it would add up to full-time pay for me.
That’s incredible! Can you describe what your role is as a virtual paraplanner?
As a virtual paraplanner, I have many responsibilities. My main responsibilities include:
- Account Paperwork and making sure account setup and transfers are done correctly
- Data Entry
- Plan Creation
- Attending Client Meetings (Through Google hangouts)
- Leading clients through our onboarding process
- Creating relationships with our clients through sending follow-up emails and reminder emails for items we have asked them to do
- Establishing processes so that the firms can seamlessly work with their clients and grow
How is working as a virtual paraplanner different than your role as a paraplanner in a traditional office?
Working as a virtual paraplanner has allowed me to have flexibility with my time. The advisors I work for don’t expect me to be available Monday-Friday from 8-5. They do expect me to get my work done and respond to clients in an appropriate time frame. Working virtually has also allowed me to learn from planners in different parts of the country and work with their clients who are located all over the country.
One of the things that was hard for me was not having other people in the office. I work from home which means I am by myself all day. I do talk on Google Hangouts at least once a day but it was still hard to get used to. Ways that I counter this issue is that I go to the gym every day during lunch, am active in the local FPA chapter, and am part of a study group that gets together every Monday (through Google Hangouts).
What would you say are the benefits to an advisor for hiring a virtual paraplanner? What about the benefits to the paraplanner?
Benefits for an advisor:
- Lower overhead cost. When you hire virtually, all they need is a computer and good technology software. You don’t have to pay for additional office equipment such as filing cabinets, office phones, staplers, paper, etc. They need a workspace, a computer, and private Wi-Fi.
- You can find the perfect fit for your firm without worrying about location. I had a hard time finding my place in the industry in my city. I live in Texas and the advisors I work for live in CA, OH, and OR. Even though we are all in different locations, we have developed a company culture and all work great together!
- It’s impressive to busy clients. I attended a client meeting where four people attended and all four people were in different states (CA, TX, PA, SC). The fact that we could do this with our clients shows that we are ahead of the curve and can meet their needs
Benefits for a paraplanner:
- Flexibility: You decide when you want to work as long as you are respectful of other people’s time and respond to clients within an appropriate time frame
- As a virtual paraplanner, you get to learn from many different advisors and experience different styles of planning
- You can work from anywhere! You can live anywhere you want and you can work while you travel. This doesn’t mean advisors should take advantage of you and expect you to work on vacation. You should establish boundaries and guidelines. If you want to take a few days off from work and turn your email off, your advisor should respect this and not expect you to work on vacation.
Working remotely is not for everyone. Who would be the ideal candidate to work as a virtual paraplanner?
- An ideal candidate would be self-motivating (yes I know every job wants this). You have to be able to get out of bed and start working without anyone overseeing and watching your every move.
- An ideal candidate would be comfortable using technology. The only thing I need to do my job is my computer and private Wi-Fi.
- They should also be organized. This goes along with my first point. No one is there to make sure you are doing your job. You must be able to prioritize your time appropriately.
Can working as a virtual paraplanner be a full-time job or do you think it would make a better side hustle?
I think being a virtual paraplanner can be both. It depends on your goals and the goals of the advisors you work for. For me, I started as a contract worker and was paid hourly. I am now an employee and get paid a full-time salary. This is an area where you should have open communication and set expectations with the advisors you work for. If you start as a side hustle and over time want to switch to being full-time, be sure to have a discussion with the people you work with.
When working hourly, how did you track your hours as a paraplanner, especially between multiple advisors?
I used a time tracking tool called Toggle. It allowed me to turn the timer on and off, list a description of what I was working on, and label who I was working for.
Do you have contracts in place? And if so, did you write them?
I do have contracts in place with each advisor that I work with. They wrote the contract and I reviewed them. I have the same contract for each advisor.
Are you set up as a sole proprietor or an LLC?
I was set up as an LLC. This provided protection against me personally and I established a business bank account and keep all my business expenses separate from my personal expenses.
Do you have specific security software you use?
I don’t use any specific computer security software but everything I do is protected by the cloud. I don’t keep anything on my actual computer. This means that I also clear out all of my download history so that any documents I download are not saved on my computer in any way.
For extra protection, I never use public Wi-Fi. If I am working out of my home, I use my phone hotspot which is protected by a password. You can also use a secure VPN if you don’t want to use your phone data. I paid for a secure VPN for a few months but realized that I was not using it enough to pay for it and my phone hotspot was sufficient for what I needed.
I know a lot of CFP® candidates are hoping to have their own firm one day, but don’t know where to start or where to gain experience. Do you think working as a virtual paraplanner has helped you on the path to being a financial planner?
I do. I believe working as a virtual paraplanner has reduced the time it will take for me to become a financial planner. Due to reduced “water cooler” time and the fact that we must be efficient with our communication, I have been able to learn at a faster pace than I could in an office. While working as a virtual paraplanner, the advisors and I have learned how to communicate affectively and to use our time efficiently. If they don’t teach me, I can’t do my job. I don’t have the ability to poke my head in their door and ask them a question. If they don’t teach me while we are on a video call, it takes me longer to do my job and prevents us from being able to serve clients.
Jennifer realized early on that working in a traditional office setting was not a good fit – it is very different being a paraplanner in a large firm vs. being the first hire of a virtual firm. A virtual paraplanner tends to be much more hands on and the work is much more concentrated. You are paid for the actual work completed instead of time physically in an office. While working virtually may not be a fit for everyone, you may want to consider it if:
- You would like to expand your financial planning experience by working with various firms across the country.
- You want to learn quickly and efficiently from different advisors.
- You are ready to be involved in all different areas of the financial planning process.