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Are adviser qualifications fit for the ‘real world’?

Would a mixture of both exam and coursework be a better test of an adviser’s knowledge?

I often hear from customers who are unhappy about having to learn material for an exam that they never expect to use in their day job. From memorising formulae to being able to recall every fact possible about the regulation of financial services; it is no wonder candidates get frustrated.

Studying for financial services exams provides a solid technical grounding and there are many arguments for sitting them. But when it come to the the life of an adviser, many find the knowledge gained is never used or, when it is required, is easier just looked up.

Are exams meant to be a test of your knowledge and understanding or a test of your memory? Is memorising specific information really necessary? In short, is too much focus placed on passing exams and not enough on the real world?

There has been a small move towards coursework-based qualifications but this does not seem to be gaining much traction. One reason could be that it simply costs a lot more for examiners to mark coursework than it does for computers to mark multiple choice questions.

However, it could be argued that coursework is a fairer and more accurate way to achieve a qualification. It does not rely on your performance for a few hours on a given day nor test your capacity to memorise facts. Instead, it provides assessment over a number of months.

While examination bodies like the CII come down very hard on plagiarism, there is a difference between that where a candidate does little or no work themselves and increasing their knowledge and understanding through discussion with peers.

Perhaps a mixture of both exam and coursework would be the ideal scenario to ensure a better fit with applying knowledge in the real world.

Picking up skills as you go along

Beyond adviser qualifications, learning from experienced colleagues and via continuing professional development is also essential for applying what has been learnt to the day job. Exams satisfy many important training and development needs but learning should not end there.

Companies that take an active role in developing their staff beyond sitting exams and ticking CPD boxes will benefit, as will their clients. Staff will feel well trained, looked after and confident, and will find their job more rewarding. As such, they will perform better and be more productive.

This does not have to involve a large training and development budget. Simply allowing staff the time to take part in and contribute to relevant professional groups both in person and online will allow them to develop their career.

Most individuals will not stay working for the same company for years on end but it is important they are assisted in building their own professional network and support groups.

Another idea would be to encourage mentors in the workplace, as this can provide focus for learning and inspire staff to move forward. Having a mentor in a position that someone would like to attain one day can be extremely beneficial. They can introduce people they can learn further from and may be aware of job opportunities that would otherwise be unknown. A mentor can help people see things from a different perspective and broaden horizons.

Adviser qualifications have their place and perhaps some will incorporate more coursework in the future. Regardless, there is a lot that can be done to develop staff in terms of real world knowledge and apply what has been learnt via exams to the day job.

It might not be as straightforward as handing someone a study text and telling them to sit an exam but staff more qualified in the real world will be an asset to any company.

Catriona Standingford is managing director at Brand Financial Training



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There are 5 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. Philip Castle 23rd May 2017 at 6:36 pm

    A sat J07 a few years ago (Supervision in a Regulated Environment). I didn’t pass it first time and wrote to the CII to point out that the written exam actually was at odds with the teachings of the exam itself which emphasised different ways of learning and examaning. I was fobbed off and then ironically after passing, they changed AF6 senior management and supervision to a courswework and assignement basis, with 3 assignments to complete over a 12 month period. I’ve done two assignments so far and one to complete (I have it at just over 4k words at present, but need to massage it down to the requisite 2.5k and still get it to make sense. My probably is a waffle as you can tell on here). I have to resit the first assignment as I was 4 marks short, but passed the 2nd first time. For me, it is a much better way of learning and demonstrating my application of knowledge, rather than acting as a memory test.
    When I wrote to the CII, as an example of WHY some exams should be “open book” I used the Army’s range management qualifications which were a mixture of open book assignments (range needs change as weapons danger areas change, so relying on memory is dangerous, just as tax changes are financially dangerous) and practical application.
    Another good example are the PADI diving qualifications, which again are a mixture of simple questions and application.

    • Catriona Standingford 24th May 2017 at 2:18 pm

      Hi Philip,

      Open book exams would be a good option for some exams where committing certain things to memory just makes no sense. Did you get a response on your letter?

      I hope AF6 goes well.


  2. john reynolds 24th May 2017 at 7:52 pm

    Interesting that for the first time that I know off – the CII have used the very specific learning objective of ‘advising’ within their exam syllabus = AF7.

  3. Does a medical exam help a doctor perform surgery? No, its the combination of theory with practical experience that makes any professional. Its the only realistic way of qualifying anyone for anything, when you try and adapt this to suit peoples preferences you open the system up to abuse via plagiarism or fraud.

    One addition the qualifying bodies could make is observed advice meetings or role plays – allowing the adviser to demonstrate their practical skills – in the same way a doctor would need to conduct clinical observations prior to being let loose on patients alone.

  4. Exams are important for two reasons:1)they impart knowledge to support advisers’ professional standing in the eyes of the consumer 2)they reflect a good attitude towards the job they do.Advisers have the potential to create havoc if the wrong advice is given so consumers really DO need to know they have the requisite knowledge. No one knows it all but there is no harm trying to get there!

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