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Advisers need to calm down and think of exams like clients

Catherine Casey
Catherine Casey

Resistance to the RDR may have given way to resignation and numbers applying for qualification do finally appear to be rising but serious concerns continue and they are not necessarily the ones you would expect.

My experience from mentoring IFAs and running workshops to prepare them for the RDR, indicates a negativity towards the qualification process and a fear that even if advisers do set aside valuable time in their working week to prepare for exams the FSA may well change the parameters.

There is a growing awareness that even if the boundaries do change some progress towards higher qualifications still needs to be made fairly soon to meet the deadline but there are several key issues holding advisers back which could result in them failing to make it in time.

Many IFAs are sole traders or small businesses and time, or lack of it, is a major factor.

Advisers already work long hours to keep their businesses afloat and finding the time to study is difficult.

One reason for this is a dependence on getting new business through the door to generate enough commission to pay that month’s bills – one of the very things the RDR sets out to address. By thinking now about changing their business models, perhaps putting clients on retainers and offering a more holistic service, advisers can not only create a more sustainable business but might free up time to prepare for exams.

The other concern I am regularly confronted with is exam nerves. Most IFAs cannot remember the last time they sat an exam and although they have most of the technical knowledge required, they do not know how to apply it in a test setting.

One favoured route for many advisers wanting to satisfy the minimum requirements by the January 2013 deadline is the ifs School of Finance route, which involves a multiple-choice exam, a piece of coursework and an exam based on a prepared case study report.

The multiple-choice exam is fairly straightforward and most advisers can gain good marks with little support.

The coursework presents a bigger challenge and it can be quite tough to achieve high marks. IFAs need to be cautious to avoid plagiarism and tend to lose marks on the bibliography as much as technical content and style. It is the case study that induces most fear. There is a five-week time limit between receiving the client profile and sitting the exam and IFAs tend to panic. They should forget this is an exam and think of it as a client. Examiners are looking for a holistic approach to the advice offered and an understanding of the client’s circumstances.

IFAs would do well to remember they have the necessary knowledge to qualify, they simply need to calm down, learn to apply it and set aside regular time to prepare. Half an hour to an hour a day spent practising coursework, working on exam technique and reading up on weak areas of knowledge should be enough to ensure success in the timescale and overcome fear.
Catherine Casey is managing director of Qualified Adviser


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There are 20 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. oh dear Catherine. Perhaps if you actually had to see clients to make a living you would understand the problem.
    Your view is like the FSAs, not in the real world!

  2. Swat or a blot? 2nd May 2011 at 3:46 pm

    Half an hour a day – but for how many days. JO exams were estimates at 300/400 hours. ifs(dip) 397 hours circa over nine months. McHoban reckons on a chicken burger as well.

    I remember being set half an hours home work at school only then to be sitting up to midnight!


  4. Must pop in to see if granny still has any eggs left….!!

  5. Patronising in the extreme.

  6. I have passed multiple choice but I found it very hard, I did fall fowl of the plagiarism with the coursework and struggled with the bibliography, only just scraped through. I have exam next week and I can quite honestly say its all a nightmare! The ifs like to take your money but do not support you in my opinion. The factfind for my exam is a typicle client not!!! £115000 income for the husband and he wants me to calculate the benefits on his co2 emissions for his car. When I ask did any of you oppressed IFA’s have to work the CO2 benefits for a typical client. Good luck to everyone

  7. CO2 emissions David?
    Typical client on £115000?
    Says everything about those who set these questions.
    I agree with you, the IFS takes your money then it is over to you.

  8. Colin Freehammer 3rd May 2011 at 9:58 am

    Oh come on most IFA’s aren’t capable of passing the exam thats the reason for the million and one excuses day in day out.

    Exams are not a walk on the park but everyone has an hour or 2 spare everyday to read the material they just don’t want to.

    Not to busy to moan on this website though are they!!!!!!!!!!!!

  9. Was wondering when a comment such as yours would be thrown in colin

  10. I don’t have “exam phobia” and have never failed an academic one yet.
    Like many other good IFAs who have passed numerous exams in the past, what I find unacceptable and repugnant is that our existing qualifications and the following years of practical, CPD approved experience are being air-brushed away as if we were coming new to the business.
    After suffering 25 years of regulatory madness I have sufficient grasp of all the topics I need to advise the clients I choose to work with, and know as well as any compliance officer that before giving advice on anything I need to ensure I am fully aware of any advantages and pitfalls and can explain these to the customer.
    Many “new” products are just relaunches of ones which went out of fashion – but we experienced advisers can still remember why. However well qualified, inexperienced advisers will make mistakes we have already learned from.
    Those corrupt fools denying grandfathering are condemning the public to suffer the same old bad products because the collective memory will be gone.
    As for plagiarism, compliance these days positively demands it as we need to prove beyond any reasonable doubt that we have brought to the attention of the customer every conceivable aspect however improbable or risk being stung by a retrospective review. This makes most client communication so over-long that it is simply used as a door-stop whereas a succinct summary is all most customers want.
    If anyone gains, it is on average not the client who has to pay for this mostly superfluous guff and who can consequently no longer afford advice but who buys, unadvised, direct.

  11. huw frederickson 3rd May 2011 at 3:18 pm

    My experience of the IFS has been very poor. There is something very fishy going on with the marking schemes and the friends I have who pass easily do so by attending crammers to learn the ‘rubbish you need to put down to pass’. Needless to say, they have forgotten all this days after the exams. The whole thing is a total waste of time and the bill will ultimately be picked up by clients.

  12. Colin – spot on.

    Those who moan tend to be the thickos who have a mental block – not necessarily an inability – to pass exams.

    Unusual client on £115k and to calculate CO2 emissions? So what? Why moan? Are you saying that it’s harder than calculating 5+5?

    Typical embarrassment to the industry where someone can moan about having to make a simple calculation.

  13. no harry & colin
    we are saying it has nothing to do with what we normally do in a days work.
    Could be neither of you are advisers. That is why you do not have a clue.

  14. @ Anonymous | 3 May 2011 6:22 pm

    We don’t have a clue?

    Think again as we are right in it. Moaned and complained, but still made time and did the exams. So I know what we’re talking about.

    What must your IQ be to think that just cos I asked that question, I can’t have a clue? I pity your clients, if you are indeed an adviser.

    I know many colleagues who struggle with exams, but that doesn’t make them bad advisers. They still make time to sit exams and will get there by the deadline. Good for them, and their clients.

    Not for yours…

  15. George W Jensen 3rd May 2011 at 8:19 pm

    Swallow your respective prides my friends, and JFDI. If you don’t you’ll be letting down yourselves and those of us who have JF Done It.


  16. In defence of ifs it reflects day to day working practice. The first exam can be sat locally and you know the result before you leave. The second course work reflects the work you do with clients and of course you can’t just cut and paste. Finally the Fact Find exam again reflects what you do day to day. One would not volunteer to do this but it is the best of a bad lot.

  17. Lindsay Abery 4th May 2011 at 5:57 pm

    Sorry guys this has been on the cards for ages. Time to do the exam whilst seeing clients? I don’t have the time to do this so have spent years of weekends studying in my own time with my own money. As the guy says JFDI. How many of those failing can genuinely say they studied for the recommended hours etc?

  18. Of the IFA’s who pass the exams, 40% won’t be in business as IFA’s after a year post RDR due to the commercial reality of working a fee only model for the practices where the bulk of their clients live in the real world, earning less than 60k.
    Why not give the CLIENT a choice of fees or commission………..It could have saved 1.6 BILLION to implement

  19. Simon Mansell 5th May 2011 at 4:07 pm

    Andy you says:

    Why not give the CLIENT a choice of fees or commission.

    Clients of course do have this choice and in 9 out 10 cases they want commission. RDR has nothing to do with consumers and everything to do with vested interests. RDR limits choice and is anti consumer.

  20. Tried of the bickering!! 9th May 2011 at 11:56 am

    I used to enjoy the constructive debates on this site, shame now all that is served is IFA’s bickering between themselves about study & exams. All of you ‘qualified’ advisers/paraplanners, shame on you for calling your peers amongst others, thick! You have achieved your goal and well done to you but why have you then jumped straight on to the highest ivory tower that you could find??!! All you other IFA’s who haven’t acheived the benchmark because you can’t (for whatever reason) or you have now decided to leave the industry (whats left of it!) or retire early, just turn the other cheek and remain dignified. I have the equivalent of level 4 diploma (‘gap’ filling required though) but after 32 years in the business and still only 50 I have taken the decision to sell my business to others. Why? because I have decided that the business model that is requierd post RDR is not a sustainable model in my veiw. I draw your attention to the ‘in my view’ line as that is what I feel and whatever others feel I respect that and wish them all the very best of luck and success for their futures. I am embarking on a new career outside of FS as I feel this new career will reward me with the ‘fun’, ‘satisfaction’ and of course the ‘material’ side that my years in FS did. For me personally, my job HAS to reward me with fun and pleasure and the fact that I quite welcome Monday mornings and that I’m afraid has been ripped out of FS pre RDR!
    So taking on board my comments people, remember you are ALL in the same business so have respect for each other.
    By the way CC, you do sound a bit condesending!

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