Full marks for study effort

Going on holiday is disconcerting. While you are away, you find all the usual obsessions to do with work or other “normal” daily routines melt away, so you barely give them a thought. This means your return to “normality” can feel strange for the first day or so.

For the first time in more than 20 years, I managed to miss a Budget speech by the Chancellor. I was engaged on one of the more arduous stages of the Hadrian’s Wall walk, so George Osborne’s largely irrelevant witterings about cutting 1p off fuel duty, not to mention his ability to ape one of his predecessors by introducing a raft of new stealth taxes, largely passed me by.

What I also missed, and this is probably far more important in terms of what being an adviser is all about, was a column on the Money Marketing website in which Essential Financial Partners partner Ian Highton, who has been an IFA since 1997, explained how he had managed to reach the level four level now being demanded by the FSA.

Let me say at the outset, and I hope he won’t mind me for saying this, that Ian’s piece is not soaring literature. It will not set your heart beating, or even – as I sometimes achieve with one or two of my readers – make your blood boil. Instead, it is a good and unflashy piece of writing that details the steps he took to achieve the Chartered Insurance Institute’s diploma in regulated financial planning.

This was a pilot study and Ian was the guinea pig – but by his description a highly motivated one. What strikes me is his modesty – despite having been an IFA for almost 15 years and being very experienced at his job, Ian had only amassed 50 of the 140 credits he needed to reach that diploma target.

Having identified a number of gaps in his knowledge by completing the CII’s pre-assessment diagnostic tool, Ian then went through a range of past papers and then spent up to three hours a day on a combination of study and revision, using material from a range of private providers.

On another website, Ian writes that the process took about 70 to 80 hours in total and, having started out with a percentage score in the mid-40s for his practice multiple-choice exams, he was rapidly able to build this up to the high 80s and 90s.

Ian writes: “In preparation ahead of the assessment day, I needed to submit three years’ CPD and you also have the opportunity to submit additional evidence to show that you have met specific learning outcomes. However, due to my time limitations, I just submitted CPD evidence.

I think it is important to stress that the assessment requires you to show evidence that you have met 100 per cent of the learning outcomes and not that 100 per cent of your answers are perfect.”

Ian’s assessment day was no piece of cake. It started at 8.30am, finished at 6pm and involved a series of calculations on a range of financial topics. He was also given four different case studies to prepare for and then discuss with his assessor. Before each discussion, Ian was able to spend time reading the case study in more detail and then take notes, which he was able to take into the meeting with him.

Before leaving, Ian was subjected to a final “technical interview” to prove his overall knowledge and skills. For those who deal with clients all day long, none of this should be frightening, the main aim, as Ian says, was to test ” your ability to ’apply’ knowledge across very broad areas”.

He concludes: “The day is mentally very draining, but ideally suited to experienced advisers preferring a face- to-face method of assessment.”

Ian’s article in Money Marketing is striking in several ways. First, because it shows that for those with a phobia about taking conventional exams, there are alternative routes out there that can help you achieve RDR compliance. Last November, during a celebrated exchange with one or two people on the MM website, I alluded to other ways of reaching the same goal.

Second, Ian’s blow-by-blow account of the steps he took to achieve that goal, what is noticeable is how – relatively – minor is the effort involved. For a financial adviser of 15 years’ standing like him, the revision took about 80 hours. Others might take more, some even twice as long, but in no case should this pose an impossible task.

The third and most striking point about Ian’s testimony is that while a small minority of financial advisers are generating a lot of heat over their unwillingness to reach qualification standards that in almost any other profession would be regarded as the minimum, he and others like him are quietly getting on with the job in hand.

Nic Cicutti can be contacted at nic@inspiredmoney.co.uk