Academy awards

It has established a national IFA brand with over 1,700 advisers and a profit record that, even with a recent blip, puts most the rest of the sector to shame.

Throughout this period, it has been a constant innovator and its latest launch, the Learning Academy, is no exception.

Historically, the firm had built its reputation on offering market-leading technology. However, with more and more other firms embracing e-commerce, there is an obvious need for the business to widen the number of ways in which they attract and retain advisers.

With the sector facing unparalleled calls for professionalism, offering a wide range of training services is a logical direction.

The partnership with the Chartered Insurance Institute, under which Positive will pay the costs for its members achieving diploma status, has attracted most attention but the learning portal covers a wide range of ways in which advisers can enhance their overall skills.

The new service went live on time on July 29 and already over 600 advisers have signed up to use it.

Of those, over 250 have registered to take CII exams this October or next April so the service can already be seen to be making a significant contribution to increasing professionalism within the firm.

Each learning opportunity falls into one of four categories.

Personal solutions address personal development and soft skills in areas such as sales, marketing and team management.

Professional solutions is the area that addresses formal industry qualif-ications.

Progressive solutions looks at new areas of advice, nice opportunities and new market developments whilst Profitable solutions focuses on helping Positive Solutions’ partners grow their businesses and maximise profitability.

Inevitably, as with any new service, it will take some time before the full range of content can be reflected on the site, so priorities had to be identified for the early phases.

As part of the development process, the company carried out research among its advisers to identify the type of training that was most popular.

Perhaps not surprisingly, for advisers who predominantly provide face to face advice to their clients, this was by far the most popular form of training.

Obviously, it is right for this service to prioritise the form of learning their advisers most want but, in my view, this identifies that advisers are possibly not recognising how flexible other training methods can be.

Valuable though face to face tuition may be, other forms of learning may actually be easier for advisers to accommodate during their busy days.

For example, audio files such as podcasts or MP3 can be a valuable way of enabling advisers to learn key messages during time that might otherwise be wasted, such as commuting or travelling to see clients.

Equally, online learning systems enable advisers to use limited amounts of time to gather crucial information without the need to travel to a specific location for face to face sessions.

In taking advantage of the academy, I hope Positive Solutions’ staff will take use of the full range of training services available, including multimedia.

A good example of this is the deployment within the system of the CII’s Ed Learn service. This enables advisers to carry out online tests of their knowledge for each of the diploma exam modules JO1 to JO7 in order to identify if their awareness is at an appropriate level.

The system will identify not only what they need to know more about but also additional suitable training materials to help address the gaps in knowledge identified. Users can then re-test themselves to ensure they have brought their understanding up to an appropriate level.

The system shows users a diverse range of training materials available to them. For face to face courses, they are able to identify when and where courses are taking place, any costs involved, prerequisites for attendance such as reading preparation materials in advance, or, in the case of revision courses, to have studied a particular subject and book the course online.

In addition to the four specific areas identified above, the service also provides users with a “My Academy” view which summarises all the courses the adviser has committed to participating in as well as all their learning history.

This includes a summary of CPD activity undertaken and the progress towards identified development needs as well as the ability for advisers to store any relevant documents, such as attendance certificates.

This is a powerful online service but it is always important to have a human relationship as well and Positive Solutions has put in place a team of partner development consultants based around the country to work with each of their advisers to agree their individual training needs.

Some people are more comfortable working with technology than others. By using technology combined with the develop-ment consultant, the service can be blended to find the right mix between the two to suit each individual.

If the 250 advisers who have already committed to the service follow through to diploma status, this would represent an increase of over 400 per cent across the 70 diploma-level advisers presently holding this qualification within the firm but, given that the launch has taken place in the summer, it would be reasonable to assume that the actual numbers will be far higher.

With the annual cost of only £60 and the opportunity to save course materials and examination charges estimated at £1,500, it is not hard to see why the service has already proved so popular.

With increased profess-ional qualifications an almost inevitable manda-tory requirement as part of the retail regulatory review, advisers are likely to be looking for all the help they can get and the learning academy is an excellent example of what can be provided.

I have frequently said of Positive Solutions’ technology that it sets a stand-ard the whole adviser com-munity should aspire to. It would appear the same is true of its training support.