Many years ago, when I started training as a nurse, a tutor was trying to explain how to recognise and respond to the signs of child abuse when a mother brings an injured baby into A&E. This matters, as nurses may well be required to inform police of their suspicions.
After a long and very technical talk on unexplained recurrent injuries or burns, improbable excuses and refusals to explain how an accident might have happened, the tutor said: “If in doubt, go with your gut instinct.”
Almost 30 years later, and long after switching to journalism, my tutor’s advice has been used again and again when trying to assess situations about which I had no real clue as to the right conclusion.
So, what is my attitude to the announcement by Aifa that it is planning to launch a QCF level five qualification offering a case study route for advisers who want to meet RDR requirements? According to Money Marketing, Aifa is working with the Chartered Institute of Bankers in Scotland and BPP Learning Media to offer the new diploma in investment planning.
When I first read this story, I tossed my old tutor’s advice out of the window. I tried to look at it objectively and started from the point of view of IFAs and what it is they need from a qualification.
If online responses to the story are indicative, the most important thing an adviser wants from the qualification itself is the right to practice his or her profession. In other words, the qualifi-cation itself is meaningless. As long as it ticks the right box in terms of allowing an IFA to continue advising clients, that is all that matters.
So whether it is a “top-notch” qualifi-cation from the financial services equivalent of Oxford or Cambridge universities or it is issued by South Workington College of Adult Education, if it can be obtained with greater ease from the latter, most people will choose that one.
The second issue is that of which method of assessing knowledge is the most effective. My old mate Robert Reid clearly believes in exam-based assessments. Last week, he launched a blistering attack on Aifa’s proposed qualification.
For Robert, it is the uncertainty of exams that make them more demanding. Those taking them can never be certain of what is likely to come up and in what form. As a result, they are forced to learn and remember far more than they may ever need. The downside, of course, is that unless they use that information regularly, they then tend to forget it all once out of the exam room.
Is he right? Well, on one level he is. On the other hand, speaking as someone studying for a minor qualification in my spare time, the case study approach is much more user-friendly. I find I am far less able to fake my way through a case study essay than a standard one. But then, I am the kind of person who prefers essays to multiplechoice tests for the same reason.
Given the above, you might end up thinking that I am in favour of Aifa’s proposed new system, right? Well, I am not and here’s why.
First, my problem with Aifa branching out into education is that once it does so it enters into territory which belongs to organisations such as the CII. Once it does, what is to stop the CII from deciding that it would quite like to represent advisers as their trade body?
Second, while this will make QCF-level qualifications easier to obtain – it will in turn make it far easier for direct sales-forces and multi-tied agents to do the same. They will simply become a low hurdle for everyone to jump.
Third, and here I disagree fundamentally with Gill Cardy who commented on this subject on Money Marketing’s website, I don’t believe that “the point of Ofqual and a national qualifications framework is that if a paper is deemed by the authorities to be level four, five or six, then it’s up to standard”.
It may be in theory but if anyone tells me that a graduate from Cambridge University is the same as one from Bedfordshire University, with apologies to the many fine intellectuals studying there, I simply won’t believe them. It is never the qualification that matters but the people who went to that particular source for the qualification – they make one worth more than the other.
The reality is that anyone taking the Aifa-backed exam may well obtain the piece of paper that allows them to practice but their qualification won’t count as much, in the opinion of those in the know, as the remainder who bust a gut to pass old essay-style exams.
Consumers believe, of course, that the alphabet soup of initials after IFAs’ names was bewildering and worthless. This new exam only confirms their view – and once every other qualifications’ body gets in on the act, they will be right.
Nic Cicutti can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org