One of the biggest impacts of RDR has been the increase in the level of professional qualifications achieved by advisers. Many who had not picked up a textbook for years have not only reached the required level 4 but used this as a catalyst to study further towards level 6.
The Chartered Insurance Institute and the Personal Finance Society have led the drive to higher qualification standards and increased professionalism. Advisers who have developed the habit of taking one or two exams a year and enjoy the process find the current CII framework offers a great deal. However, when it comes to moving from level 4 to level 6 the options begin to narrow.
In order to become chartered, the CII requires at least 120 credits (of the required 290 total) to come from AF papers or equivalent prior learning. For an adviser who wants to develop their technical knowledge in the traditional areas, the AF papers hit the mark. For others, however, the technical qualification options are at a level they are unlikely to use regularly. Studies can then begin to feel like a hurdle to overcome rather than something to generate useful knowledge.
There are numerous workbooks, audio programmes and intensive revision courses that promise to help you pass first time. However, that is not always easily achieved. Indeed, pass rates for AF papers are often below 50 per cent.
This is as much a testament to the relative technical difficulty of these papers as it is to the demands of running a business, seeing clients and trying to carve out some time to spend with family. The cost of each examination cycle, the additional support material and the time away from client work can then spiral into hundreds, sometimes even thousands, of pounds.
Because of this, the achievement of chartered adviser or firm status remains something only a minority has managed. And as the drive to greater professionalism gains momentum the bar is only likely to be raised further. The CII will require chartered firms to have 50 per cent of their advisers at level 6 by January 2020: a significant increase on the current requirement.
So how can advisers balance everything they need to? Perhaps a more pragmatic approach can help. The CII plans to move the AF6 Supervision and Senior Management paper from a written exam to a coursework-based qualification. There is huge benefit in this as not only is the AF6 syllabus immensely practical for business owners and directors but making it vocational will mean what is learned takes on real meaning.
There are also excellent vocational courses available that can translate to learning points at chartered level but deliver knowledge beyond the technical aspects of financial advice. One such course is the Chartered Management Institute Level 7 Diploma in Strategic Management and Leadership.
The course delivers a work-based programme across nine modules, each relating to a particular aspect of running a business. Assessment is completed through a series of assignments written about each candidate’s own business so, not only are candidates gaining a valuable qualification, they are also working on and addressing real problems within their business. Similar courses from the Institute of Leadership and Management and the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development are also available.
The key to sustainable life-long learning is to ensure that what you study is useful and engaging. For some, that will be the traditional financial services qualifications. For others, practical alternatives will be most rewarding. Every learning path should be tailored to the individual.
Adam Owen is head of learning and development at Sense Network