Vanessa Kerk: Paraplanner With a Plan
Our colleague Vanessa Kerk from ASW Malaysia has had a very interesting life working and traveling so far. We sat down with her and talked about her settling down with ASW and what her life’s like now working for a financial planning client.
Hi, can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Hi, I’m Vanessa! I grew up in a small town in Johor, Malaysia, where I spent the first half of my life, and where I found an early passion for photography. I was the head photographer for my high school magazine, and frequently participated in school activities, which spiced up my school life. I went on to university for my degree in Business and Finance where I got academically competitive and finished my final year in the UK. Later, I was privileged to be able to live in Edinburgh and get a taste of the Scottish life.
To enhance my experience as a foreign student, I took a part-time job in an events company and that really gave me a real taste of and appreciation for Scottish culture. This intrigued me to start exploring for a “work and travel option” thereafter.
Ever since the pandemic hit, I have had this voice in my head saying, “You need to get outside!” So now, more than ever, I’m constantly seeking outdoor activities, with caution, of course. Be it a hike on a Saturday morning, an evening jog around the nearby lake, or just exploring good food in town. Once the situation in Malaysia eases up, I would really love to join boxing classes!
What do you do at your job here at ASW, and what’s your day-to-day like?
I’m an Intermediate Financial Planning Analyst aka a Paraplanner. Working from home, I usually wake up early to get some steps in and make myself a cup of black coffee. Coffee first before anything else – the thicker, the more caffeinated, the better! I’ll then review my workload and emails before I dive right into work at 7 am.
A day in the life of a paraplanner can be incredibly varied – I could be calling companies to get information, keeping up to date with regulatory changes, doing cashflow modelings or drafting advice documents for the advisers all day. Sometimes, when we get urgent work requests, I adjust my schedule accordingly. It really depends on the day!
After my 7 am to 4 pm life, I like to either work out for a post-work adrenaline rush or go for a mid-week grocery run to stock up on essentials. It’s rather mundane, but that’s my routine to keep me grounded on weekdays.
Could you tell us more about your background prior to joining ASW?
After I graduated, I decided to work and travel before I settled down in Malaysia. As a business development executive, I learnt to be creative in different ways, and updated myself on the SME landscape in Melbourne. I even had the chance to join and provide input for a Victoria State Council meeting supporting small business growth in the suburb I worked at.
As cliché as it might sound, working in a place where customs and ways of life are drastically different than what I was used to, really helped me become more independent and learn how to thrive in different environments.
What are the usual challenges of being a paraplanner?
Evolution of new rules and regulations in the Australian financial services industry, especially after the pandemic hit. Like with the Kardashians, it’s a lot of keeping up! It’s a lot of wearing different hats and adapting new skills to meet Australian business standards or client requirements.
We also need to answer technical queries the advisers may have on different components of the business – complex calculations, or research in areas such as retirement planning, tax savings, or investments. We also need to make notes about different clients – the advisers our company serves – and have the recommendations and strategies at our fingertips when preparing or implementing advice.
Could you tell us about the systems and programs critical to your work?
We draft Statements of Advice using XPLAN under different licensees (Millenium 3, RI Advice). We are also skilled in using Adviser Logic, XTOOLS+ (part of XPLAN) for projections.
We adopt an adviser’s existing processes based on their licensees, whether under a big group or self-licensed.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I love the variety this role brings – we prepare, create and implement. Whilst paraplanners may not be widely recognized as financial planners, this role gives you a solid foundation on the essentials of holistic financial planning. Personally, I think the true value of a paraplanner is that we rise to the occasion, think about how each strategy is presented, and offer genuine alternatives, modifications and improvements, while complying with rules and regulations.
As an employee of ASW, I love the global culture and the new friends I’ve gained since I joined in September 2019. It’s not all rainbows and butterflies when you get trained via Zoom and not side-by-side with colleagues, but you find that, with an open mind, things fall into place as you learn and adapt to the changes.
How do you think your colleagues and superiors would describe you?
They would probably say that I’m dedicated, up for a challenge, and quick to rectify problems. On the flip side, I am a meme queen. I love using memes when chatting in Teams, I think it helps me express myself better and lighten things up a little!
Can you tell us one of the most important things that you’ve learned in all your experience in financial services?
My answer for this is simple. You can’t go wrong with “read, research, and apply”. Fairly easy concept if you think about it, but it really helps you find new solutions to different problems so you can deliver and grow along with the company.
How do you make sure to become better at your job after all these years?
For me it’s about setting milestones. It helps me see clearer and monitor my own progress. It also helps me achieve small wins along the way, which to me is important because it motivates me and helps me push forward.
Another thing is focusing on progress, not perfection. I was a bit of a perfectionist in the past, and I would dwell on the tiniest mistakes. However, as I grew, I allowed myself to make mistakes and understand that perfection is not actually a realistic goal. I’m still learning to stop stressing over the things I can’t control (and this is what my manager told me often, too!). I think this mindset has generally motivated me to try new, innovative approaches to problem-solving.
I also go by this philosophy: “Experience matters, talent matters more, but attitude trumps all.” I also stay hungry for new learnings because we sometimes need to unlearn to learn.
What would you like to do be doing five years from now?
I see myself taking more complex work beyond just paraplanning to build my career as a financial planning professional. I’ve also signed up for the ASW Emerging Leadership Program to harness my leadership and supporting skills to guide newcomers and help them transition into their new role as financial planning analysts. Hopefully, as I move along my career path, I will have used everything that I’ve learned, and continue to learn and improve in my field.