Saturday 19 January 2019

Pax makes financial plan pay

Sean Gallagher with Paul Merriman. Photo: Douglas O’Connor
Sean Gallagher with Paul Merriman. Photo: Douglas O’Connor
Sean Gallagher

Sean Gallagher

Pax Financial Planning was set up by Dubliner Paul Merriman in 2011 to provide a fresh approach to financial planning products and services. Headquartered in Sandyford and with offices in Limerick and Cork, he now employs 18 staff and this year, will see his company's annual turnover reach €1.4m.

"We are essentially a financial brokering and financial planning business. Our aim is to educate and advise clients about all aspect of their financial wellbeing, focusing primarily on asset/wealth management and personal finance," says Paul. "In the area of asset/wealth management, we work with clients who are typically in their 50s and who have significant assets in the form of either property, investments or cash.

"We help them put in place structures that will best preserve their wealth while taking into account relevant legal, tax and inheritance planning issues for themselves, their families and their businesses," he adds.

In the area of personal finance, Paul and his colleagues provide advice on mortgages (though he is keen to stress that his business does not actually execute on mortgages), those looking to take out pensions, put in place life-assurance policies, income protection or specified illness cover. They also cater for those who have large sums they wish to put into saving and investment funds or who want to save for their children's' education.

While he has a varied mix of individual and business clients Paul has also managed to develop strong relationships with specific professions, including GPs, pilots, and accountants - with most of his new clients coming by way of referrals.

Paul is upbeat and engaging and believes he has the best job in the world.

"I love this business. I have seen clients turn into long-time friends over the years. There is no better satisfaction than seeing people begin to draw down their pensions when they reach that age and know that they have the resources in place to enjoy their retirement free from financial worries and stress," he says.

"I have also been able to help people who have lost loved ones draw down death claims and while this is a most terrible time for them and their families, it's rewarding to be able to help them have access to the security these policies provide in their time of need."

Paul grew up in Tallaght. His father ran his own commercial building company while his brother-in-law had a successful contract painting company.

"From a young age I was exposed to conversations about property, investments and cash management and I have no doubt but that my passion for all things finance stems from their influence," says Paul.

Having realised that he made a bad CAO decision in choosing to enrol in a course in electronic engineering, Paul decided to leave shortly after starting the course, opting instead to take a job with general insurance firm RSA. Although he enjoyed the job, a friend convinced him that there were better prospects in the life assurance sector.

Although accepted for an interview with Irish Life, he soon realised that he could not join their mobile team because he was too young for their fleet car insurance at the time. Rather than give up, he took a job in sales with Campbell Soups and two years later, complete with car insurance and additional sales experience, he joined Irish Life as a financial planner. Working full-time and studying in the evening, he later qualified as a certified financial planner. With a further seven years under his belt, he decided it was time to gain experience in the brokerage area and joined a brokering company as a director for a year before leaving in 2011 to set up Pax Financial Planning.

"Everyone told me I was mad at the time. We were in the throes of the worst recession. Funds were on their knees. Markets had crashed and unemployment had sky-rocketed," says Paul.

"However, I was confident that if I could provide a service that was simple, that people could understand, presented in plain English and with no BS or confusing jargon and where we put clients' interests first, then we could really be successful. Thankfully that's what we've done."

The following year, he bought a brokerage in Co Limerick with five staff which helped increase his turnover and give him a presence outside of Dublin.

Setting up an internal software system for his own staff around life assurance contracts, to help them compare and contrast different financial products, proved so successful that other brokers began to ask if they too could buy it. Paul then developed a licensed software product with the support of the country's six life assurance companies. Today that software system, ClearChoice, is used by more than 450 finance brokers around the country.

In 2016, Paul opened his third office in Cork and earlier this year, he set up AskPaul, a free social media-based financial commentary platform where consumers can send queries directly to him on any aspect of their finances.

"My aim was to demystify finances for the masses and to give people a platform to contact a financial expert directly without having to go through an intermediary, bank or a product provider," he says. "This is proving a great success. We now have 6,500 followers and our videos are regularly watched by over 100,000 viewers."

Paul has also built up a strong media profile with regular slots on TV3 and Q102 where he answers question from the public on all aspects of financial planning.

What's his long-term plan?

"I'd love to see the day when Pax Financial Planning is in every county; every financial broker in the country is using our comparison software, ClearChoice; AskPaul is continuing to educate consumers about their finance; and that we would be employing lots more people. That would be my wish.";;

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