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A new curve in the learning road

Of all the issues that cause debate in the retail distribution review, the most contentious is qualifications – and the FSA’s refusal to budge past the 2012 deadline. Many advisers are well on the way to meeting this challenge but there are others that have not yet made a decision about how to proceed.

The FSA regularly preaches that the RDR offers an opportunity to raise the standing of the profession, but we must ensure good, experienced advisers are not driven out of the industry as a result of the deadline.

It is in response to demand that we have announced our intention to offer a qualification – the diploma in investment planning. It brings something entirely new to the market-place. Entering into the qualifications’ arena was not something we did lightly and we have selected the Chartered Institute of Bankers in Scotland as a partner for this enterprise after a great deal of research and due diligence.

Aifa has always worked very closely with all the professional bodies. We are committed to improving the reputation of the advisory profession – and one of the strengths we have always been proudest to promote is how far IFAs have gone in investing in professional education. At the start of the RDR process, we could justifiably lay claim to being the best qualified contingent of the retail financial services world – looking at the proportion of members who had more than the benchmark minimum qualifications.

However, the RDR’s requirements have raised the bar again. With level four being set as the new minimum, many advisers will need to undertake some element of gap filling continuing professional development as today’s exams may not meet the new requirements. For others, it will mean embarking on a new learning journey.

In the midst of this, there has been concern expressed about the existing examination options. Indeed, I have heard members say that the current approaches fail to recognise the experience they have gained – and that the exams used were too theoretical.

Given the duty laid on Aifa to help ensure as many members as possible continue to trade through the RDR, we took the decision to examine if we could work to develop a qualification that met the needs of members and offered to future-proof them against another step-change in qualification requirements. The result of our work is the new diploma. It is designed to be practical, so it is case-study based and the examination is a single paper, so that makes it cost-effective. It is supported by a state of the art online learning package and is pitched at level five – above the new minimum standard. As a new style examination, there will not be a CPD gap-filling exercise to undertake.

This new qualification has been designed to help existing advisers meet the demands of the RDR, within the timescale set by FSA and at a cost-effective price. As the trade body for the advisory profession, Aifa has a duty to ensure that as many members as possible continue to trade through these changing times. It was this clear purpose that led us to decide this was the right time for us to make this move.

Chris Cummings is director general of the Association of Independent Financial Advisers

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