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Charter takes flight

If you had to choose someone to value your house, where would you go? I would be making a beeline for a surveyor from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.

If I needed some top-notch bean-counting to be done, I would be looking for an chartered accountant. What marks both groups and increases public confidence is one word – “chartered”.

Royal charters, granted by the sovereign on the advice of the Privy Council have a history dating back to the 13th Century. New charters are normally reserved for bodies that work in the public interest, such as professional institutions which can demonstrate pre-eminence, stability and permanence.

Among the many chartered organisations is the Chartered Insurance Institute.

Chartered status is meant to confer greater professional purpose, someone who is a notch above other people in the same field. So important is this professional recognition that in some occupations it is vital.

But not, until now, independent financial advice has not enjoyed anything like this status.

The history of independent financial advice has not exactly been one that would allow members of the public feel an overwhelming sense of confidence in IFAs.

But clearly, another reason for this lack of confidence has been the well justified perception that, unlike many other professional bodies, most advisers have been lacking on qualifications. As I can vouch for personally, the FPC is a doddle that can be taken and passed in just over a week. Despite the CII’s efforts, not enough advisers have been working their way towards the AFP, with just 5,000 having this qualification.

All that is set to change. Last week, the CII announced it has been given permission by the Privy Council to award a new title to members – chartered financial planner. The title will be available to members who have passed eight AFPC-style exams or their equivalents.

The CII believes the new title is the equivalent of a degree-level qualification. Personally, I am not sure but what is certain is that the bar is being raised a notch.

The CII reckons that only 200 members have the exam passes to qualify for CFP status. By the time of the first “graduation ceremony” next year, as more people are “grandfathered in” by virtue of other exempting qualifications, plus more exam passes, that could rise to 500.

If I were an IFA, I would see it as my long-term goal to become a member of that elite group.

The creation of this title will have other conseq-uences. Take the Institute of Financial Plannning which has struggled valiantly to assert the value of financial planning as distinct from financial advice.

If I were in the shoes of Nick Cann, I might be spitting tacks as CFP status has sounded the death knell to the chances of certified financial planning being more than a minor irrelevance qualification-wise.

There are other implications. Aifa has defended the separation between trade body representation, which it regards as its fiefdom, and professional status, a function it abdicates to whatever organisations its members go to.

A new body of men and women will gradually develop, with chartered financial planning status. Their standing will ensure two things – first, grad- ually to dictate the terms whereby financial advice is given and perceived; second, that the dynamic, in terms of how the industry will want to be represented, will shift towards professional bodies rather than trade ones.

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