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Alistair Cunningham: How useful are provider sponsored events and CPD?

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I am a huge proponent of continuous professional development but am increasingly inundated with information about low-quality, lengthy events being promoted by media, product providers and professional bodies.

The formats are diverse, from webinars to forums and workshops to conferences.

Autumn is fashionably the conference season but while the political parties’ annual events finished just over a month ago, financial services’ events are in full flow. The Institute of Financial Planning conference was held in October and we are just weeks from the Personal Finance Society conference.

I am an advocate of the IFP’s philosophy in respect of financial planning but its conference agenda left me cold. Individual sessions in some cases looked interesting but the commitment of nearly three days of potentially billable client time meant I had no wish to attend.

At the time of writing, there is no PFS agenda listed on its website. This is also a multi-day event with heavy provider sponsorship. 

It seems to me that much of this CPD is product promotion by providers, which may not be best placed to provide objective training to advisers.

Many of the professional bodies offer more compact sessions. The IFP has a monthly session where value content is provided in two hours. In the context of CPD at least, it seems to me that less is more.

We are all required to complete a minimum of 35 hours’ CPD a year, 21 hours of which must be structured. The C in CPD stands for continuous and I think it is more valuable to top up my knowledge over the course of a year rather than in an intensive two- or three-day conference.

The worst of conference sessions and workshops come in three types: the happy-clappy motivational type, which is bereft of content and leaves me with a feel-good emotion for a matter of minutes; the old-school sales pitch, where you are told you are making fundamental, high-risk mistakes that can only be fixed with the solutions provided by the speaker; and the “celebrity” event, where another business owner or consultant or industry guru massages their hubris.

Providers and sponsors of conferences want to promote their products to as many eyeballs as possible but I question the actual value of their marketing spend, particularly in an RDR-compliant world.

Most advisory firms have switched to committee-led decisions and it is unlikely that any adviser would be lured into recommending products based on a fancy lunch or nice hotel. Indeed, the type of person who serially visits conferences and other sponsored events may be exactly the type that a provider does not want to attract.

For those who doubt this happens, there is a body of evidence from other professions showing a strong correlation between recommendations and “free lunches”. 

Where there’s muck there’s often brass, but I’d rather not go digging.

It is the social element of these events that I miss most but with an expanding network of likeminded professionals, I try to find time to catch up with them outside the conference arena wherever possible. 

I heartily recommend the regular sessions organised by local branches of the IFP and while much of the content of the London “chartered” connections is not relevant to my role, it would suit a more general practitioner.

Alistair Cunningham is financial planning director at Wingate Financial Planning

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Comments

There are 11 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. Well said, Alistair. It’s important to be selective about attending these events and focus time on more important activities. Same principle applies to having meetings with product and fund providers, I would argue.

    Also worth noting that CPD can be found in the most unlikely of places. I spent 90 minutes yesterday evening attending a community meeting learning about dementia; not another IFA or financial services person in the room, but invaluable learning which was relevant to my role and one of my chosen advice areas.

  2. @Alistair, being by the seaside I was so fed up of even the PFS meetings being over an hours drive and getting phone calls fro provides want to visit, i decided to turn it on it’s head and we have now run 2 seminars a year year for the last two years and plan on increasing it to 3 next year. I invite what interest me and what I WANT to know more about including Bromley College who support our apprentice, the local Credit Unions and so on and then invite any IFA who wants to attend. We then tell the provider they’re paying for the lunch and for a hostess to run the day, some we don’t ask to pay anything towards costs such as the local divorce mediator and so on. I think we need to take control back and only speak to who WE want to and who will benefit our clients and so on. As a small DA firm, it also means we can share ideas and get people like Gill Cardy of IFACentre to share her insights.
    Our next one is 31st January here in Ramsgate and Martin and Alistair are welcome as are all IFAs although from this one onwards, if you’re not an IFACentre member, you pay your own lunch 🙂 or join as far as I am concerned.
    It works quite nicely as we seem to be getting about 15 or so advisers and planners from different firms, plus interesting speakers on a variety of RELEVANT topics for CPD, which often aren’t on supposed “approved” CPD lists, but may be more valuable and insightful as a result.
    I hope to persuade a friend who has actually finished his IFQ (unlike me who started 7 years ago and still hasn’t finished) to do a bit in June if I haven’t sat and passed by then.

  3. This is going to be an interesting area to observe over the next year or two. CPD is one of the few areas left where providers can continue to subsidize IFAs. But as discussed above the content is often not up to scratch.

    I’m a big fan of the IFP structured CPD days, which you have pay for.

    I came away from the IFP conference thinking that it was a lot of time out of the office for not many structured CPD hours in the bank. However the conversations outside the sessions make up for it.

    As for “free” CPD events, I tend to avoid them now.

  4. Alistair

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    How many times have I tried to say the same but not nearly so eruditely?

    I agree with your comment about the IFP conference. I have been nagging them for years to improve it, but there is a clear conflict. These conferences make money and they won’t get sponsors unless they allow them to ’flog their wares’.

    These are a few of the points I have tried to have addressed:

    With respect of this year’s programme. I studied it carefully, once it finally became available. I find it rather strange that they advertise the event and expect people to book (and admittedly many do) without actually publishing a programme.
    1. On the Monday there were three interesting half hour sessions – and they all clash. So it is a matter of choosing one and losing two.

    2. I find that Monday had one hour Tuesday had an hour and a half and Wednesday had 1 hour 15 minutes of programme that I judge to be of value to me. Technical matters appertaining to financial advice. (Tax planning, product analysis, economics, research and due diligence techniques etc.). That’s a total of 3 hours forty-five minutes over 3 days. Out of the office with an outlay of over £500, not to mention what it costs to be out of the office. I do rather think that 3 days is a bit OTT. And on a Monday to Wednesday for goodness sake – the very worst option. Why not Thursday to Saturday?

    If you run a business surely you already have a firm grasp of marketing and communications, planning and brand awareness. If you don’t perhaps you need to ask yourself some questions and anyway this is about management – for which other organisations offer very good courses. (EG the IOD)

    To have a seminar on office politics smacks to me of desperation to fill time and the ‘huggy feely’ social worker stuff may turn some on, but I’m afraid leaves me cold. As to ‘celebrity’ speakers – if I want to be entertained I’ll make my own choices thanks. Compare this to (for example) a Morningstar or Taxbriefs Conference. Some stuff not much use, but a lot that was. Neither of which confuse financial advice with social work. Max 2 days – easy access. (Yes London and the SE are still the capital. Birmingham, Manchester or Leeds are major centres. A golf resort just across the Welsh border is hardly a convenient location or the centre of ‘great things’. (Unless of course you enjoy Golf).

    I know the IFP can do better as I signed up for their truly first class CPD programme spread over the year and covering what really counts – Retirement Planning, Estate Planning and Investment and Asset management. (In London!)

    Also another really worthwhile series (in my opinion) is the truly excellent Investment Intelligence seminars laid on by Invesco Perpetual. No product selling – just pure economics presented by a truly excellent speaker.

  5. CPD should be focused on the individual adviser filling gaps on his/her knowledge. I see no correlation in doing an IFP course or a provider offering.

    I agree with Alistair, the adviser should plan over a year the areas that can improve knowledge and more importantly where the adviser can add value to the client and business as a whole.

    As Martin points out, why not stick all your advisers on a structured course like the care fees exam.

    All the CPD is completed and the business benefits with additional revenue.

  6. @Phil Quote – ” Gill Cardy of IFACentre to share her insights.” Into what exactly?

  7. Quite agree. Adviser Advocate is looking to organise specific CPD based on the advisers’ agenda – locally based and charged for rather than free. Interesting to see the appetite for such events!

  8. Not that I am contrarian but I totally disagree. I must get 3 or 4 emails a day inviting me to CPD events. It must total 500 hours a year if I went to every one. I find it quite easy to pick only the ones that are of interest to me. Nearly all the one ones I attend do have a bit of product push but then its expected and usually only for 10/15 minutes at the end so it’s fine. They do fund the event including refreshments and its expected that they have to push their stuff a bit. Classic examples of what I mean which immediately spring to mind are: JP Morgan “guide to the markets seminar” I attended yesterday. It was a 90 minute presentation giving their view of various markets, where they see them going and why they say what they do with 10 minutes on only 1 JPM fund at the end. It was very good. Invesco is another great example of excellent CPD hours with their “Investment Intelligence seminars”. They again are generic and rarely do they push their own funds. They do of course have some videos of their own fund managers giving info but it is their view on asset classes, being over or under weight and why not how wonderful their own funds are – Its excellent. Zurich runs business protection seminars and there is nothing about Zurich or its products on this. Teaches you how to read a set of abbreviated accounts and how to calculate sums assured based on the company’s own accounts -Great stuff. Scottish Life recently ran a seminar on Auto enrolment – Awesome. 2 hours of presentations and just under 10 minutes on their own default fund. Metlife ran a 90 minute presentation on “DC time bomb” which was presented by Dr Ros Altman. Other than the introduction by the Metlife regional chap telling us how much they appreciate our support and ran through the amount of income advisers had sent them and him closing the event, there was not a mention of the provider or their products. No more than 6 minutes provider push in total – Superb
    As long as you are picky you can get some real value from providers and as long as you realise they are marketing you then there shouldn’t be a problem. Can easily generate 75% of annual CPD hours attending events that interests and benefits you, no problem. We are all here to make a few quid and that’s fine. Long may these continue

  9. @Marty – Yes – Only difference is I like them to come to me rather than me spend an hour or two travelling so in return for them coming to me I arrange the meeting as a seminar for other local firms. You could come too if I knew who you were 🙂

  10. Couldn’t agree more. I’m lucky as all providers use Belfast or its suburbs as a location and its only 15 min into City Centre

  11. Didn’t realise you were in NI. Don’t think you can fly from Belfast to Manston yet (KLM fly from Manston now and with a stop at Amsterdam you can fly to OZ & NZ or anywhere practically in Europe except Belfast). Oh well.

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