It was about halfway through the Money Marketing awards – probably the award for best bus shelter advertising campaign by a protection provider – that a thought struck me. Whenever you get depressed with the acronyms and jargon in this great industry of ours, remember there is always someone worse off than yourself.
You could be an educationalist. Having read the Financial Services Skills Council's consultation paper, my head swims with NQFs, QCAs – or CCEAs in Northern Ireland – and indicative content. I almost long for the clear waters of pension tax simplification, with its SSASs, Sipps and CTO.
But all this skills stuff matters. Even if you feel secure enough with your grandfathered qualifications, you should be alert to the professional framework within which the next generation of advisers will have to be brought on. What characteristics should we be looking for in a qualification system?
First, the adviser should see a clear progression through the exam structure. Sofa's bid for chartered status should be seen in this light – a clear summit towards which to strive. Accountants have developed their pathway over a much longer timescale than the IFA has existed. Those of you who want to be regarded as professionals should be keen to see this pathway achieved.
Second, advisers must strive for something that counts, especially at the higher levels. If you are going through the grief of an exam system, you want to attain something that rates higher than a row of beans at the end of it and that has instant acceptance across the industry.
“And all shall have prizes” is OK for Lewis Carroll but not so good if you want the scale of your achievement to be recognised. I hope the skills council will be wary of deeming appropriate those exams that do not require evidence that information can be applied as well as assimilated. Case studies may be a bore to examine but they seem to go to the heart of judging competence as an adviser.
It is too late to reopen the issue now but was it not a shame that Ron Sandler's recommendation to restrict the use of the word “adviser” could not be implemented by regulation? If the word clearly indicated a level of professionalism and training, would this not generate confidence in consumers and a feeling of self-worth among those giving advice? But too much water has flowed to reopen this now.
Third, everyone should have the same chance of success. Exam modules that are assessed by measuring not the competence of the individual but the controlled environment within which the individual works are fine for compliance purposes but not for the assessment of skills.
Of course, it is not the skills council but the professional bodies which will put flesh on this framework. I do not feel that envious – there are times when it suits me fine to be part of a trade association.
Some final random thoughts. Aifa was going to have its own awards, targeted at those firms which had not been short-listed for an award over the preceding 12 months. But we had to abandon the idea as no firm met the entry criteria.
Finally, I see the TV industry is complaining that new regulator Ofcom has issued 40 consultation papers. Luxury! I used to dream of there being only 40 consultation papers
Paul Smee is director general of Aifa