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Achieving chartered status when exams are just not for you

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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.

Another way

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

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Comments

There are 10 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. I’m all for studying things that end up being useful of course, and in an ideal world, that is all it would be. Having sacrificed a lot to obtain the APFS qualification and have those sacrifices ‘rewarded’ by having my fellow professionals not only within my own industry, but further afield, take ‘me’ (or at least my ‘Financial Adviser’ badge) seriously for the first time by virtue of that qualification, I would hate to see it dumbed down somehow – such as the RO papers on the whole, did as a substitute for the JO papers (in my personal view). Some would claim that my AF3 was nothing compared to G60, and who could necessarily argue (not me), but there has to be some indication of ‘overall capability in a wide sphere of services’ and a separation of that with perhaps ‘Specialist’ in a certain Field only – which I would support, given that I’m often referred to (jokingly I trust) as ‘Jack of all trades, Master of None’

    • Hi Kevin,
      Thanks for taking the time to read the article and commenting. I agree with you on a number of points. As a PFS education officer and CII accredited trainer I am a big supporter of, and advocate for the CII qualifications framework.
      There are however many routes to higher levels of professional qualifications and business professionals can reach chartered status with a number of awarding bodies both within and outside the financial services profession. The level 7 qualification I refer to in the article for example results in Chartered Manager designation.
      Once an adviser has met the minimum industry required standard (currently level 4) the choice of which route to take to a higher level needs to take business strategy and return on investment into consideration. For many, the best ROI will come from continuing their technical studies with their existing professional body to level 6 and beyond. This is likely to involve further specialist qualifications and gaining additional authorisations such as PTS.
      For others, reviewing their client segmentation, can lead them to determining that a route to level 6 specialising in strategic management or HR may be a more appropriate option. There are many excellent firms advising clients in the corporate market and in group schemes where this option has more relevance than AF3 for example.
      My big point is exactly as you say in your further comment. There can be a perceived divide between professional bodies. However the QCA framework allows this to be bridged and where there are equivalent qualifications that are more relevant to an individual’s business strategy, these can and should be considered.

  2. And, I’m all for being operated on by a surgeon who has years of practical experience and good success rates than being operated on by someone who knows their way round a text book, has all the technical knowledge possible, but wouldn’t know one end of a patient from the other. Whether, they have G60 or AF3 means absolutely nothing to the client at large. What they want to know is; do you know what you’re doing, are you qualified in this particular area, have you the experience to deal with my circumstances and what will it all cost? This industry has lost a great deal of experience in the past few years and I dare say it would lose a whole lot more if some bright spark decided we need to sit the equivalent of a level 6 degree in our spare time.

  3. The gravy train continues

  4. I believe my comment and support about having a designated area of ‘specialism’ (which you patently chose to ignore James – as some without the Level 6 are inclined to do ?) adequately covered your ridiculous analogy. I’d hate to be going into surgery with someone who had never been properly examined to the highest possible level – both in theory and in practice. I’m sure most Hospitals would agree

    • You’re like a born again Christian who thinks he’s seen the light. You also make wrong assumptions. My specialist subject was business studies and yes I was tested at the highest level but as we all know something we did 37 years ago counts for nothing. My anology also stands as an experienced surgeon would have everything they threw at him and everything since. Except he also has the proven track record to go with it. Call it experience if you like. I’ve met many a chartered advisor who will fully admit they use about 10% of the knowledge gained in studying for their level 6 equivalent. So in reality just what was the point?

  5. Why bother with the CII? Just join the IFP and be treated properly like an adult instead of a superannuated schoolboy/girl. They are now merging with CISI so their CFP will now lead to Chartered status – all based on coursework and case studies.

  6. An issue of much unnecessary divide, that’s for sure. If the various powers that be, collectively decide that that X is Chartered and it is ‘suitably’ pitched (& priced for ALL), then I have nothing but support for the entire Industry achieving that. ALL of us then get the recognition that we deserve, we all win. Prior to the RDR exams, I had an administrator remark of an Adviser, that “they don’t know the difference between an OEIC and an OINK”. Quite an indictment and an exaggeration of course. That’s not how the discussion started however, and my response was engendered by this peculiar inverted snobbery that exists in our field, like “I’ve got Level 4 but my operation will be far better than that level 6 surgeon who is just a serial studier” In actual fact, both might have the same success rates, and were either to do the operation, the outcome would be the same. It just may be, that the wider population more generally, and given the choice, might prefer to place their trust in the Surgeon proven at least ‘theoretically’ capable of dealing with any arising and unexpectedly complex problems during the surgery” Wider research seems to support that theory at least. That’s all I was saying James

  7. Achieving CII Chartered Status will be even harder for smaller firms. As a small chartered firm we are unable to recruit or develop new advisers and will have to sack one adviser in 2020 if by then he does not achieve chartered status in order for us to keep our status! All this chartered business is not very well thought through.
    Another gripe I have is the definition of a customer facing employee – the one that has to have a CPD plan etc. You know the telephone operator / receptionist who works 20 hours a week. Why in heck’s name do they need a CPD plan? They will have to be CII members next!
    But for those who say they only use 10% of what they have learned – I will quote a fellow IFA who put it succinctly. It is the 90% that will bite you in the bum later!

  8. “I will quote a fellow IFA who put it succinctly. It is the 90% that will bite you in the bum later!”

    We all know advisers of course who have come out with classic statements such as ‘regulation it’ll be the death of this industry’. He retired last year age 59. Killed him.

    It also doesn’t matter if you use 100% of your chartered adviser capability there will be something we haven’t even thought about conjured up by those that can, using todays standards against retrospective business which will bite us in the bum. Of course a PFS education officer and CII accredited trainer plus the CII have something of a vested interest in seeing financial advisers advance their knowledge. Nothing wrong with that of course as we all have to make the best of our little lot but the chartered firm rule change I would suggest leaves no doubt what this is really all about.
    ‘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.’ All for ours and the consumers benefit of course……!!!

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