Why You Should Stop Using Emails in Paraplanning

27th January 2022 Adam George

I have long held the view that using emails to share information in paraplanning is absolutely the worst possible way of working. By this, I am not referring to the use of email in a financial planning organisation generally, but specifically the use of email as the primary communication channel over which an adviser shares information with paraplanners and administrators when working on a client's case.

Of course, in theory, it is possible for an email-driven solution to work perfectly well, but the problem is that human beings are fallible and prone to making mistakes or getting confused when inundated with emails, particularly during busy periods and when complex cases are being worked on.

Why are Emails so Bad?

It's easy to understand why this misuse of emails is so prevalent. Everyone's got an email account; messages are easily read and responded to; it's portable and convenient for everyone.

However, when you fall into the trap of using emails for paraplanning it comes with several crucial drawbacks, at least one of which I'm sure you will be able to relate:

Scalability

Emails need to be read by individuals, and thus rely on the recipient being able to access his/her email account and respond accordingly. If the recipient is in a meeting or absent on holiday or long-term sick, nobody's picking up the email. It's stuck in the person's inbox until he/she finds the time to read it.

Of course, many of you will be thinking "That's not a problem, we have a shared mailbox!" but while that solves the scalability problem in one sense, in practice, it introduces other problems that far outweigh its benefits, as discussed below.

Excessive Noise

We all know what it's like to be copied in on an email trail in which we have only a passing interest. Many of us will just click 'Mark as Read' if we have time to even do that, and the few of us who do read the emails have to spend time checking each message in the thread in case the content is relevant and needs dealing with.

The aforementioned shared mailbox compounds this problem. If you've got your own emails to worry about, plus those of the shared mailbox, you have twice as many accounts to manage. It doesn't matter if they're coming to you via CC or appearing in a shared account, it's still extra effort to go through and discern which messages you need to deal with and which you don't.

At busy times in particular, having the task of sieving through these emails and picking out what's relevant to the case you're working on is a job we could all do without.

Moreover, as more emails circulate and more people get copied in, the harder it is to keep the conversation on-topic and clear. It's a similar problem to WhatsApp, where group chats get large and noisy and so people end up muting them, thus rendering the chat useless as a communication channel - something we can all relate to, I'm sure!

Confusion from Multiple Trails

From a financial planner's perspective, this is by far the most dangerous risk of having a system that relies too heavily upon emails.

Consider the situation where an adviser fills in the fact find, LOAs have been accepted, and the work for the suitability report is ready to be started. The adviser then emails the administrator and the paraplanner to request the report and explain the financial advice to be given.

The most common problem here is that emails, being plain text, contain no validation to ensure all the data is captured clearly and completely, so it's often the case that the full scope isn't properly specified at the outset. A classic example is that of pension contributions, where the adviser can state "Pay £10k into the client's pension." but is that net or gross? Is it an employer contribution or a personal contribution?

Maybe this ambiguity gets noticed, and maybe a query in a separate email is sent to the adviser directly by the administrator (who forgot to click 'Reply All') but this only finds its way to the paraplanner via CC several messages down the line. By this stage, the paraplanner has also asked questions about the data on the fact find and resolved a query about how the adviser charges are to be paid, but this was all done in a parallel email thread.

It's easy to see that this only needs to happen a couple of times before the paraplanner has multiple email trails about the same case to manage, and if the adviser changes the recommendations later down the line then it gets yet more confusing.

You can imagine how exponentially more error-prone this method of working becomes when you have multiple cases, multiple advisers and multiple mailboxes!

Emailing Mistakes Around can Supersede Fact Finds

To avoid the kind of confusion described above, a well-organised paraplanner may read the fact find and then email the adviser straight back, setting out precisely his/her understanding of the case and follow it with "let me know if anything is missing or incorrect" or words to that effect.

The adviser, being extremely busy, glances over the message and responds to say "Looks OK to me", not realising that one of the key points taken from his original email contradicts the fact find, and the paraplanner has taken his word over the fact find.

A little later down the line, when the file check takes place, the file checker cannot see any evidence of this discussion because it's all on email and the fact find contradicts the suitability report. The paraplanner is then drowning in emails yet again, looking frantically for the conversation with the adviser in order to get the suitability report signed off. At best, this is just annoying and time-consuming, but, at worst, the fact find turns out to have been correct all along and the report needs urgently rewriting.

As you can see, the misplaced use of email to capture requirements can undermine the integrity of the fact find, and thus compromise the quality of the case.

Security

Despite its ubiquity, email was not designed with any privacy or security in mind.

As email data travels between your computer/phone, the servers in between and the recipient's device(s), it can be read by observing third parties at any points where it travels over the network unencrypted, and could also be stored unencrypted on any machine that processes the message along the way. As such, email is not regarded as a secure solution for information exchange.

Admittedly, there have been improvements made over the years, such as TLS encryption when sending messages between your computer and the SMTP server, but, as this does not encrypt the message itself, it relies on all servers and Internet relays in between communicating over encrypted connections as well for your message to be securely delivered. Sadly, this is not something you can control, and you can't pick and choose your email traffic routes over the Internet to ensure safe passage.

Also, don't think that because you're using a "big brand" like Microsoft, Google or Yahoo for your company's emails that you're safer than anyone else. These companies are all subject to the same limitations and can't guarantee end-to-end encryption of your emails.

It's for precisely this reason that companies email you to say things like "Your bill is available, log into your account to view." rather than "Please find attached your bill.", because sending an email attachment would be less secure. Likewise, any process that involves IFAs emailing documents around could be putting customers' data at unnecessary risk.

Does This Really Happen in Practice?

Yes, it does, and some of our recent experiences at PowerPlanner have meant that my opinion on this matter has been vindicated.

Late last year, for example, we had a complex case (husband and wife with multiple pensions and investments) that needed rewriting 3 times because of the insistence of the adviser to communicate via email rather than via our adviser portal. At first we weren't told about the need to crystallise, then the advice given was FAD when in fact they wanted UFPLS, and then the investment advice was wrong. Even though we took the time to spell out precisely what our interpretation of the advice was and got a "spot on" from the adviser, it was still not correct. Yes, even the chartered IFA giving the advice had been confused by the many email trails, notes and sub-notes and the case had become incomprehensible.

Had our adviser portal been used properly as the sole channel of communication, we'd have got this right first time and turned the case around within a few days. Instead, it took months of stress and confusion, resulting in frustration for all involved along the way.

How to Solve All These Problems

PowerPlanner's software and processes have been built specifically to avoid the limitations of email-driven approaches.

Our adviser portal ensures that recommendations are validated, the appropriate information is captured, and that only the latest details are displayed to the paraplanner, thus minimising the risk of any confusion over which source of information should be trusted. Communication through our adviser portal is also fully encrypted using HTTPS end-to-end, thereby ensuring that all sensitive information is secure in transit.

Firms that implement proper systems to manage case-related communication and data exchange will be more scalable and efficient than those that choose to email everything. These firms will need fewer staff members to achieve the same level of work, their advisers and directors will be less stressed during busy periods, and there will be more scope for bringing in new business without compromising the quality of service to existing clients.

Start Your Journey to a More Secure & Efficient Solution Today

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