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And so to ed

It is only human nature not to like exams. On the other hand, most people in the industry probably now accept them as a necessary evil. Financial advisers want to be recognised as professionals and have their services treated as valuable by their clients.

Consequently, it should not really be too much to ask that advisers are qualified and participate in suitable continuous development programmes to ensure their ongoing competency.

Achieving and maintaining a suitable level of qualifications and competence and being able to demonstrate it to the FSA is no small burden for any business from the biggest life office to the smallest IFA.

For several years, the Chartered Insurance Institute has been developing technology-based training tools to complement its paper-based material.

Much of this content has been carried forward to a new service, launched in conjunction with Sofa, which has been rolled out over the past few months as part of a powerful new online training and competence service.

Known as ed, the aim is to deliver a way in which industry practitioners can achieve the appropriate professional competency, maintain this and monitor these processes so that compliance can be demonstrated to regulators and other interested parties.

Online training has a great deal of potential for our industry. It can enable people to train when and where it is most convenient for them without the need to attend classroom-based training scheduled for specific times.

Given the ever-increasing time pressure that virtually everyone in our industry is under, the ability to be able to meet these important professional obligations wherever you can access a computer and a phone line provides greater flexibility than many more traditional education methods.

It can also be quite fun. In the past couple of weeks, I have been investigating various modules within this new service and I am impressed.

Having said that, it does require a fair amount of determination up front because while the quality of the material within the service is high, the resources to help the user learn how the system itself works are limited to say the least. It is, however, worth bearing with it as once you are used to it, the system is excellent.

The ed service has two components, the learning management system, designed to help users train for and pass the appropriate exams, and the compliance and competency system, to help them make sure they are of a suitable ongoing standard and to record appropriate evidence that can be produced to demonstrate this.

Although the service is designed to accommodate both FSA and GISC-regulated activity, my investigation focused on the investment areas.

The LMS can cater for a wide range of industry qualifications, including FPC 1, 2 and 3, AFPC papers G10, G20, G30 and G60 and MAQ. CCS is designed to pick up the shortfall between what would have been within the CII examinations when an individual originally took them and current market conditions.

This part of the service, which includes both training materials and testing, can monitor the overall extent of an individual&#39s knowledge in an area allowing for three different levels of user.

Level one is aimed at administrators within a business, the second level at those giving advice and the third level at senior managers who will require the greatest understanding.

The courses available and the progress of the individual user can be controlled and monitored by supervisors to enable them to effectively manage the training of many individuals across an organisation. All the activity within the system by the user is recorded and can be produced in reports for compliance and other purposes.

In addition, external CPD eligible activity can also be logged so the system is able to provide a complete picture of the extent to which any individual has met their obligations.

Another benefit is that the system contains a wealth of technical information which can be accessed by the user during their working day such as full contribution tables for executive pension plans and detailed tax tables.

In its basic form, this product provides a very low-cost solution to an important obligation for all financial services businesses. The tuition modules are provided at a typical cost of £60 per user per module a year for members of CII or Sofa (£65 for non-members).

The services can be bought in conjunction with the CII&#39s interactive ebook services. These are a range of electronic versions of the institutes&#39 paper-based course books.

For members, FPC and Maq modules increases to £100 a course or £125 for the AFPC modules. Non-member prices are £110 and £135 res-pectively. It is not expected that a user would be studying for more than one qualification at the same time.

The CCS system is available for £60 for members per user a year (non-members £65). For corporate users, ed is highly customisable and can be produced to reflect individual organisation&#39s branding, bespoke content and courses and a range of other facilities.

The CII has made it clear it wants to allow users to have a significant influence in the future evolution of the product. From what I have seen so far, this initiative seems capable of significantly contributing to the ways in which the industry can rise to the challenges of Sandler and others.

There has been some criticism in the past of trade bodies in our industry that start becoming involved in commercial activity.

In this instance, however, I believe it would be totally unreasonable to make such comments. In my view, the CII and Sofa should be applauded for delivering a very powerful solution.

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