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Chartered course

The launch of the chartered title for financial planners has captured the attention of the members of our fledgling profession like no other initiative. At meetings up and down the country, our staff have queues of members lining up asking what they have to do to get to chartered status.

This is not surprising as this is the gold standard qualification with an academic standard about double that of its nearest rival, the Certified Financial Planner title. It is human nature to want to be the best and the reaction of planners throughout the country is that they want to be the best.

The journey started many years ago at a Sofa conference when Sandy Scott promised to seek a change to the CII byelaws to allow a title for financial planners. The route to chartered is long and many people were involved in the work required, including Brian Lawless, Robert Reid, Nick Bamford and Brian Steeples to name a few. During the negotiations, two issues that are worthy of note emerged.

First, there was massive support for the title from other professional and trade bodies but very often we were urged to join Sofa with the LIA to create one professional body. There is no doubt that the merger was a significant factor in the support we were given.

The second issue that emerged was from consumer research which we commissioned. Quite simply, this showed that no other title was held in such esteem by the public. Chartered is far and away the most trusted title a professional can obtain with recognition of more than double any other professional title.

When the announcement came, the reception was enthusiastic to say the least. Of course, there were a small number who, jealous of the word chartered and how it would clearly become the gold standard, tried to spoil the party. But the weight of the argument in favour of chartered was enough to marginalise the critics.

It was at the first Chartered graduation ceremony – a day of massive celebration for the CII, the PFS and the new graduates – that the idea of allowing groups of chartered practitioners was first raised.

The logic of it remaining a title for individuals only was difficult to support, particularly when a key driver had been to strive towards parity with the other professions. This then took us to the structures that would need to support a title for chartered firms. With the retail distribution review in mind, we had to plan for a variety of market conditions.

Some may suggest that all staff should be chartered but this ignores the current professional landscape and that would be wrong. The title has been constructed to place respon-sibility on the firm’s directors for ensuring that standards of ethics and conduct are met by the whole firm. This is entirely consistent with a principles-based regime.

The point that critics are missing is that the code of ethics and conduct requires a member to advise only in areas where they are competent to do so. This will give comfort to consumers that their affairs will be managed by someone who is fit for purpose.

Given the enthusiasm of the public and members for this title, we would be failing them both if we did not police its use effectively. After all, one of the marks of a profession is the ability to remove from membership those who do not abide by the rules. This will apply to individuals and to chartered firms. Loss of the individual title or expulsion from membership of any of the firm’s employees will potentially have an impact on the firm’s ability to retain the title.

It is a feature of any profession that membership must be hard to achieve and therefore worth having and the price for failure is loss of that membership. I have no doubt that those who have earned the title through many years of study will not wish to lose it.

That makes the whole exercise worthwhile and must be of benefit to the consumer. There is no other body or title available that meets these criteria.

Have we got everything right? I doubt it. Running a professional body is a dynamic exercise. We must adapt with market changes and we must adapt to the needs of the profession.

We will shortly have over 1,000 individuals with the title and 50 chartered firms – not a bad start. We will listen to them and work with them to turn this fledgling profession into something of which they can be proud.

It has been a long and winding road but the prize at the end is massively worthwhile. In one swoop, the CII has enabled the PFS to become the leading professional body for financial planners.

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