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Do you have a good administrator?

Debbie Condon, MD of Intuitive Support Services, highlights the value a good administrator brings to the table. Try functioning for a week without one, she suggests

A busy financial planning firm cannot operate without support staff, and paraplanning is now seen as a professional career in its own right. However, we rarely hear about the administrator role, nor the value they bring to the table, despite the vast majority of financial planning firms having administration support in place.

Whilst for some administrators the role may have been a way to gain entry into the industry, for others it’s a long-term career of choice. Of the nine administrators we currently employ, six have been in the role for over 15 years, which is often longer than the advisers they support.

When things are running smoothly, a good administrator is unlikely to be noticed. However, try to function for a week without support, and you’ll quickly be reminded how crucial their role is.

A good administrator can pre-empt many problems before they occur, and help to organise and manage their adviser. Even if things are chaotic and backlogged in the office, a good administrator will still make the client feel well looked after, and portray that very important professional image of the firm.

Skills, confidence and attitude

What makes a good administrator? Well, in our view there is no one thing that makes that perfect candidate, but there are lots of skills needed in different measures. A good understanding of products, compliance and regulation are important, as are really good organisational skills. You also need a natural curiosity to question things that don’t seem right, and the confidence to challenge a product provider who isn’t meeting expectations. From there, add in some flexibility, good telephone manner, an eye for detail and a sprinkle of common sense, and you’re well on the way to making a really good administrator.

Exams help, and will always make a CV stand out because it tells us that an administrator is serious about their career and the industry – but a long list of exams on a CV alone do not make a good administrator. Neither, for that matter, will 25 years of experience. In our view, the most important attribute above all else is quite simply having the right attitude. It isn’t difficult to teach an administrator about products, compliance, regulation and back-office systems. However, if the right attitude isn’t there first, no amount of training will produce a first class administrator.

Careful how you recruit

Recruiting an experienced administrator is not always an easy task, not only a lack of good applicants, but also every CV seems to give the role a different title. A quick search on recruitment agency websites will show you the same role advertised as IFA Support, PA to Financial Adviser, Financial Services Administrator and even New Business Administrator. Where to start!

I regularly hear about firms recruiting based on which back-office system a candidate has used in the past. I personally believe this to be the entirely wrong approach. I would much rather invest my time training an administrator who has a superb “can do attitude”, over and above working with someone who’s attitude simply isn’t right for the role, purely because they have used a certain system in the past. You might save a day or two in training time, but long term you stand to loose out on so much more, had you chosen the person with the right attitude in the first place.

Recruitment should always be based on the individual candidate’s strengths, and not on the systems that they happen to have been exposed to in their previous role.

If an administrator has the right attitude, everything else should fall into place quite quickly.

Problem solving

The benefits of having experienced and efficient support cannot be understated. Consider the advantages of having someone who can manage your contact strategy and fill your diary with meetings without you even having to ask. Someone who can pre-empt (and resolve) a problem before it hits your desk, and someone who can challenge a product provider and get an unfair decision over turned. And, of course, someone who simply makes your clients feel like they are the most important people in the world.

In the last few years, product providers have driven much of their processing back to the IFA administrator, who is now responsible for the online processing and platform management. Long gone are the days of simply posting off the paper application with a covering letter. Many of the roles that historically sat in the product provider office, now sit on the administrator’s desk, which has without doubt made the role more challenging. A mistake made when submitting new business, or when processing a platform trade, can be very costly indeed if it hasn’t been processed correctly.

It isn’t rocket science, and I wouldn’t suggest for a moment that it is, but it does take a certain skill set.

Advisers who are doing their own administration are effectively a ‘very well paid administrators’. But getting bogged down by administration will be counter productive for the business in many ways, preventing the adviser spending time on fee-earning activities.

However, when you come to look for quality support, keep in mind that famous Red Adair quote: “If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur.”

Never has that saying been truer than when it comes to employing a skilled administrator.

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