Advisers need to calm down and think of exams like clients
Resistance to the RDR may have given way to resignation and numbers applying for qualification do finally appear to be rising but serious concerns continue and they are not necessarily the ones you would expect.
My experience from mentoring IFAs and running workshops to prepare them for the RDR, indicates a negativity towards the qualification process and a fear that even if advisers do set aside valuable time in their working week to prepare for exams the FSA may well change the parameters.
There is a growing awareness that even if the boundaries do change some progress towards higher qualifications still needs to be made fairly soon to meet the deadline but there are several key issues holding advisers back which could result in them failing to make it in time.
Many IFAs are sole traders or small businesses and time, or lack of it, is a major factor.
Advisers already work long hours to keep their businesses afloat and finding the time to study is difficult.
One reason for this is a dependence on getting new business through the door to generate enough commission to pay that month’s bills - one of the very things the RDR sets out to address. By thinking now about changing their business models, perhaps putting clients on retainers and offering a more holistic service, advisers can not only create a more sustainable business but might free up time to prepare for exams.
The other concern I am regularly confronted with is exam nerves. Most IFAs cannot remember the last time they sat an exam and although they have most of the technical knowledge required, they do not know how to apply it in a test setting.
One favoured route for many advisers wanting to satisfy the minimum requirements by the January 2013 deadline is the ifs School of Finance route, which involves a multiple-choice exam, a piece of coursework and an exam based on a prepared case study report.
The multiple-choice exam is fairly straightforward and most advisers can gain good marks with little support.
The coursework presents a bigger challenge and it can be quite tough to achieve high marks. IFAs need to be cautious to avoid plagiarism and tend to lose marks on the bibliography as much as technical content and style. It is the case study that induces most fear. There is a five-week time limit between receiving the client profile and sitting the exam and IFAs tend to panic. They should forget this is an exam and think of it as a client. Examiners are looking for a holistic approach to the advice offered and an understanding of the client’s circumstances.
IFAs would do well to remember they have the necessary knowledge to qualify, they simply need to calm down, learn to apply it and set aside regular time to prepare. Half an hour to an hour a day spent practising coursework, working on exam technique and reading up on weak areas of knowledge should be enough to ensure success in the timescale and overcome fear.
Catherine Casey is managing director of Qualified Adviser