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Why advice is about more than just qualifications


Qualifications, qualifications, qualifications. Is that what it is all about, or is there more to progressing your career? I am contacted regularly, either by those trying to get into financial services or those in the early years of their career, to ask about qualifications and what they should sit to get to where they want to be.

Career progression seems to revolve around qualifications: what exams have been passed, when were they passed and what exams are you planning to sit in the future? Certainly, having and working towards qualifications is important for entering the profession but is there not more to it?

My father – a retired doctor who still teaches medical students – has commented many times that today’s pupils lack basic skills such as having a good bedside manner and being able to communicate with patients. It has become all about sticking your head in a book and coming out with a qualification. Is this also true in financial services?

We are at risk of overlooking the essential soft skills in the rush to obtain the piece of paper that  says “pass”.

Holding qualifications is important but other skills, such as being able to communicate verbally and in written form, as well as listening and researching, have to be just as vital. My grammar is not always what it should be but some of the mistakes I see on a day-to-day basis can be quite astounding (and sometimes just plain funny).

There also seems to be a lack of knowing how to communicate to a person depending on the topic and the relationship between the two. I  like to be friendly and relaxed in my communications with our customers but I hope I achieve a good balance with remaining professional and respectful too.

Have you ever received an email in text speak? This does not bother me but I struggle to understand why it would be a good idea to send somebody other than a friend a communication in this manner. It is akin to seeing me in the street, giving me a high five and asking “what’s up?”. It would be weird.

I am sure many of us remember our parents banging on about saying “please” and “thank you”. Annoying at the time but so important. It is surprising the number of emails we receive that ask for things without a simple please or thank you. I doubt they are meant to come across as abrupt and demanding but that is what happens. I know I am much more likely to go the extra mile for someone if they are polite.

Just the other day a recruitment contact was telling me about how they could not quite believe the CVs and covering emails they receive. There seems to be a great deal of grammar and typo issues alongside a far too laidback approach to communicating from some people who may just have the right opportunity for their next career move. Has the need for soft skills been forgotten?

Informed Choice managing director Martin Bamford recently wrote an article about his experience trying to recruit. He says he saw very little in terms of interests or passions and wondered whether people have the “substance to back up your experience, qualifications and enthusiasm”. He really hit the nail on the head.

Qualifications are important, as is experience, whether that be experience in financial services  or in other areas of life. But being able to display enthusiasm, motivation and general all-round ability to communicate is just as important.

What does playing a team sport have to do with winning a position in financial services? It suggests an ability to work with others towards a common goal, as well as a level of competitiveness. What does loving to read educational and thought-provoking books say about someone? It says they are keen to learn, to expand their knowledge and to be self-motivated. What does helping out on your kid’s school PTA and taking part in fundraising events tell you? That they are willing to devote time to things that matter to them.

Having interests outside of work can make an individual stand out from the crowd. So it is not all  about qualifications. It is about being well-rounded with good communication skills and providing a lot more than the knowledge studying for exams does.

Catriona Standingford is managing director at Brand Financial Training



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There are 5 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. Catriona is right in one respect – it certainly isn’t ONLY about qualifications. Qualifications are a very important integral part. However, I have come across some extremely well qualified advisers who have the commercial nous of a camel. In all my 30 years in financial services, I was never once asked about my qualifications – although during that time I was almost always studying for one qualification or another. I went through the card – way before it was fashionable.

    But, as she says, there are other attributes. Being able to express yourself and communicate so that others don’t get bored out of their skull. Understanding what is important to a client and what is definitely not. Perhaps the biggest attribute in my opinion is to have had some relevant experience outside financial services. This will give better empathy with those with whom you engage.

    Team player? Well yes if you main ambition is to be a drone for the rest of your working life. However, having confidence in your own judgement and ability and if necessary pushing this through sometimes against the tide is perhaps more valuable. In this business as in so many others, we suffer from ‘group think’, which to me and to many of our clients in anathema.

    Yes, get the qualifications – without them you can’t do the job properly, but never imagine that is ‘job done’. Far from it. And never assume that your qualifications are the last word – there is always more to learn.

  2. The more qualified I got, the more I realised how little I knew, and the need to keep progressing. The subject of qualifications is never raised with clients, it is about having life experience and perhaps understanding the emotions of people that helps you formulate the right advice. The technical knowledge is what they take for granted and may give some confidence, but people skills are just as important.

  3. Very good article Catriona, and I agree wholeheartedly

    Knowledge in most instances is client specific, qualification is for the time spent in the examination or test center / room,

    My knowledge is tested daily by my clients and has been on-going for the past 25 years, any slight doubt in knowing the answer then research is the remedy,

    I don’t really worry or care about what letters I have after my name (I don’t think my clients do either) its more to do with my skill set and this is forever evolving and getting more honed.

    You cannot pass and exam for experience and or knowledge you have to get your hand down and around the u-bend for that !

    I often ask myself; did the level 4 exam process make me, myself, and I a better financial adviser ? did the the level 4 exam process benefit any of my clients ?………. NO, hand on heart it didn’t and NO, it hasn’t, I have not had one client say to me……. boy oh boy glad you passed those exams that’s really made a difference to me

    The world is full of very clever chaps who have the right school tie, and with all manners of examination certificates under their arm, who quite frankly cant tie their own shoe laces and who would fall flat on the faces the moment they walk through the door or a clients house !

  4. Some good comments. For me integrity, empathy, communication and a love of the job you do are at the top of the list.

  5. I couldn’t agree more with Geoff Sharpe. It really became apparent as I progressed through QCF 4 how little I knew about our industry. How a massive firms systemic risk is so important when discussing an investment with a client. Or how the world of the money flow in various economies means so much to clients when discussing pensions.
    Where the FCA get off on approving the qualification syllabus in terms of the case studies is beyond me. For the huge majority of advisers in the UK the chances of running across a multi millionaire with bazillions invested on deposit – 5 homes, 19 children all at different stages and different needs. Investments of differing types and life policies coming out of their ears. These are just your typical client that one comes across 3 times a week.
    To me the qualification is about as much use as a chocolate fire guard. I did what I had to do to pass it at the time but have never used any of the crap that was in the syllabus since.
    Experience, integrity and a desire to do the best you can for clients is, in my humble view, so superior to “qualifications”. You only get this by being trained up on the go through many years and gathering the experience over time and seeing how things fit into the real world.
    However the Regulator who has always been run by people who think that qualifications are desperately important to have. Like Harry, Since coming into this business on the 29th May 1989, I have never had any client ask me about what qualifications I hold.
    I am a people person, always have been and get on far better with some type of people than others (as do we all). If I had any potential client ask me “what qualifications do you hold Marty?” that would be the end of the road for me. I would not like to deal with this type of person as that would spell all sorts of warning bells about how much of a pain in the bum he/she would be.
    Other advisers out there would relish this type of person. This is why we are all successful in our own right. Its all about people doing business with like minded people and people they like and can trust.
    Rant over have a nice day all

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