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