Hi cornflake head,
I work as a Paraplanner - I work in a small financial planning firm 2 days per week and also do contract work from home. I worked as a Paraplanner then Financial Planner from 2000 to 2003 before leaving to start my family. I graduated with my Diploma of Financial Planning (DFP from the Financial Planning Association) at 8 months pregnant!!!
Three kids later, I found myself "unemployable" as relevant industry experience necessitated having worked for 5 of the last 8 years. So I set about doing the Diploma of Financial Services (essentially the same as Units 1-4 of the old DFP) with Kaplan Education. It is distance education, the only requirement being travelling to one of their offices to sit the end-of-unit exam. However, I think you can sit that externally if you pay a fee and arrange to have an impartial third party oversee you.
In my experience, potential employers appear to focus on the actual qualification - being RG146 compliant. Most job advertisements seem to outline they want a candidate with DFS or ADFS. Some specify degree qualified - do you already have a business degree of some sort?
If I were starting afresh, I would probably jump in and do the Diploma of Financial Services initially. You can either do the final four units to attain the Advanced Diploma, or you might be lucky to find an employer who supports further study. At least with the DFS you have a starting point.
Google DFS or even have a look at the Kaplan website. Perhaps even look at some of the major companies' websites (AMP, Colonial, etc.) because some of them offer 12 month on-the-job training type scenarios.