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Spot the difference: Comparing the sector’s major training grounds

Money Marketing speaks to graduates from the three largest financial adviser academies

spot the difference academyThe academies that recruit and train the next generation of financial advisers are becoming just as competitive as the advice firms that go on to employ them. St James’s Place, currently home to nearly one in six advisers in the UK, is bringing diversity issues to the frontline at the St James’s Place Academy, setting an ambitious target last November to bring female candidature to 50 per cent.

Meanwhile, at rival networks Openwork and Quilter, a raft of changes this year have made sure it is not just SJP putting its best foot forward. Openwork has boosted its training centres to recruit prospective advisers from Swindon and Newcastle and has also expanded its training grounds in London. The network also flagged its intention to ramp up investment in its academy later this year, including a focus on recruiting career changers and its mortgage adviser programme.

Quilter recently opened its doors to Level 4 qualified advisers looking to attain Level 6 qualifications, reforming its academy as the Quilter Financial Adviser School in line with efforts to streamline its many business arms under new branding. The group’s advice network, Quilter Financial Planning (formerly Intrinsic), also launched a funded, 58-week training scheme to boost its own ranks. Graduate advisers must spend two years in the network after completing their training.

This week, Money Marketing asked graduates from the sector’s three largest academies about the peaks and troughs of their experiences.

St James’s Place Academy

Qualifications achieved

Diploma in Regulated Financial Planning

Student Supervision

Dedicated partnership development manager and mentor

Lock-in employment period

None

Programme cost

Fully funded

Current candidature

375

Median age

34

Quilter Financial Adviser School

Qualifications achieved 

LIBF Diploma for Financial Advisers

LIBF Certificate in Mortgage Advice & Practice

Student Supervision

Weekly virtual classroom supervision and additional face-to-face skills days

Lock-in employment period

Two years if in the Level4  programme

Programme cost

Fully funded for Level 4 students within Quilter Financial Planning

Current candidature

165

Median age

31

Openwork Academy

Qualifications achieved 

CII Certification in Mortgage Advice (R01, CF6 and R05) for mortgage advisers

CII Diploma in Regulated Financial Planning for wealth advisers

Student Supervision

Three face-to-face workshops; a mentor programme; regular conference calls; development events

Lock-in employment period

Two years

Programme cost

Fully funded

Current candidature

179

Median age

32

Dave Grigg, St James’s Place Academy

What was the best aspect of the academy programme?

Learning about the industry and the various instruments that can be used to best service clients and doing the exams to get my qualifications.

What experience was the most difficult?

Coming out of the academy and having to build a business and client bank from scratch was quite challenging.

Why did you want to be a financial adviser?  

I enjoy interacting with people and advice is a people-based business. I can use the people skills from having been a firefighter in a different way now.

Where are you currently employed?

Hampton James Financial Associates – a partner firm of SJP.

Why did you choose SJP?

I did a lot of research and no-one had a bad thing to say about the SJP Academy experience. I also liked the pathway of their programme, as well as the resources available.

Do you plan to undertake further qualifications?

I have already started my Level 6 qualifications at the SJP Academy with the aim of reaching chartered status as soon as possible.

Natalie Parnell, St James’s Place Academy

What was the best aspect of the academy programme?

I loved the challenge of learning new things and the focus on practical skills.

What experience was the most difficult?

Revising for the exams, because you can be out of practice if it has been a while since you were at university.

Why did you want to be a financial adviser?  
I wanted a career change. I wanted to move into a career I felt I could control and to know that where I was going had less corporate red tape.

Where are you currently employed?
Parnell Financial Management – a partner firm of SJP.

Why did you choose SJP?

I knew the standard of training would be very good and I didn’t think anything out there could equal it. I also really value the SJP philosophy of looking at clients holistically.

Do you plan to undertake further qualifications?

I plan to become chartered in the next couple of years, which I am undertaking myself externally.

Hannah Owen, Quilter Financial Adviser School  

What was the best aspect of the academy programme?

The mix between having online classrooms and being able to go into London and meet the tutors. We spent a lot of time on soft skills, as well as the technicalities needed for our qualifications.

What experience was the most difficult?

There were a lot of quizzes to do, which could be quite challenging, and you also had to learn by yourself in a virtual classroom. Even though we had the chance to meet other people on the course during the programme, it’s not quite as easy to chat things through or ask questions when it’s mostly online.

Why did you want to be a financial adviser?  

It’s the best-of-both-worlds career option: it’s nitty-gritty and technical but also gives you the chance to help people directly and interact with them.

Where are you currently employed?

Quilter Private Client Advisers.

Why did you choose QFAS?

At the time, the programmes with QFAS were quite new so there was also the opportunity to provide feedback, and I found Quilter to be very receptive to that.

Do you plan to undertake further qualifications?

I’ve just started back at QFAS to study towards Level 6.

Lucy Dickinson, Quilter Financial Adviser School  

What was the best aspect of the academy programme?

The face-to-face phases of the course; getting to meet interesting people and share experiences with them; and the trainers’ expertise.

What experience was the most difficult?

The experience wasn’t quite what I was expecting in terms of the amount of interaction, so it was a challenge getting used to the individual classrooms and how they get knowledge across.

Why did you want to be a financial adviser?  

I wanted a career change. A recruiter told me my skills would translate well into paraplanning and it all went from there.

Where are you currently employed?

Sheafmoor Money Management – part of Quilter Financial Planning.

Why did you choose QFAS?

I originally applied to join my firm as a paraplanner. They identified an aptitude that would suit financial planning and as the firm was already in the Quilter network, QFAS was the natural choice.

Do you plan to undertake further qualifications?

I’ve started Level 6 qualifications, again through QFAS, the first of which will be the pensions transfer exam.

Abby Stokes, Openwork Academy

What was the best aspect of the academy programme?

Gaining my qualifications, but also meeting fantastic people – both those at the academy with me and the trainers who prepared us for exams.

What experience was the most difficult?

Having the discipline to work and study alongside each other. Without the structure provided by the academy, I feel it would have been easy to allow weeks or even months pass by being too busy working.

Why did you want to be a financial adviser?  

Studying and working in accountancy made me realise I wanted to have more client interaction. After discussions with my father, I realised being an adviser would be the right job for me.

Where are you currently employed?

Fulwood Wealth Management in the Openwork network.

Why did you choose Openwork?

My dad is with Openwork. I was studying accountancy but the opportunity to transfer to financial services hadn’t arisen. Openwork then restructured their academy programme and it felt like a perfect opportunity.

Do you plan to undertake further qualifications?

I hope to continue on Openwork’s Route to Chartered programme.

Jeremy Webb, Openwork Academy

What was the best aspect of the academy programme?

It was great to learn together as part of a group. Just having the books and doing everything on your own would be challenging; instead, I was part of a close-knit team.

What experience was the most difficult?

The time commitment required. I’m currently a mortgage and protection adviser and I’m also self-employed, so I had to manage my time.

Why did you want to be a financial adviser?  

When I was at school, I sat a cognitive ability test used to indicate what you can achieve and give you a steer as to what your ideal job might be. Mine came out as financial adviser.

Where are you currently employed?

Concept Financial Services in the Openwork network.

Why did you choose Openwork?

When I joined Concept, it was incidental that they were part of the Openwork network. However, over the past year it’s been great to benefit from the Openwork membership.

Do you plan to undertake further qualifications?

I’d like to become chartered.

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