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Degree of belief

I recently completed an honours degree in financial services management, graduating in July 2009. The degree course was completed by distance learning over two years while running my business and managing family commitments.

This degree course is offered by Edinburgh Napier University to candidates that have qualifications to advanced financial planning certificate level who are given dispensation to entry at second-year undergraduate level. The course is the same course as that offered to full-time undergraduates but for distance-learning students, the course is known as the Pathway degree.

Why would I put myself through this?

I never had the opportunity to go to university and felt that I had missed out on the experience. I also wanted to prove to myself that I was smart enough to complete a degree.

I was also inspired to take on the challenge of the Pathway degree because other financial planners, whom I admired professionally, had completed the degree and I wanted to be in the exclusive club of planners holding a degree in financial services management – so ego played a part in my decision.

I thought that completing the degree would make me a better businessperson and would give me a better understanding of business.
When the opportunity to do the degree presented itself, I was 43 years old and thought that if I don’t do it now, I probably never will. So I set myself a goal to complete it before I was 45.

What was involved?

My timing was not great. When I started the course, my daughter Alexandra was aged one and in the second year of the course my son Nicholas was born four weeks before key exams. With very little sleep, I somehow managed to get through the exams and coursework.

Time passed quickly but I studied and somehow fitted in the coursework alongside my work commitments. I enjoyed the process of learning and the university staff were very supportive.

The course was based on two modules of study per semester, with two modules running from October to December and another two from January to March.

Students who successfully completed the first year could graduate with an ordinary degree. For those wanting to secure an honours degree, the second year required another four modules to be completed, making a total of eight over the two-year period plus a dissertation on a relevant subject.

My dissertation topic was something I knew well and it was certainly relevant. It was called: “An investigation into and analysis of the effect of the external environment on the development of the new model adviser in the IFA sector.”

As a practicing IFA and a new model planner, I had myself undertaken the transition from commission-based adviser to fee-based planner some years before and understood the issues that were involved.

A significant element of my dissertation was an assessment of the influence of the FSA and regulation on the changing role of the IFA. I think that selecting a topic that I was passionate about and had strong views on was important.

I was delighted when my course tutor was so impressed by my dissertation that he invited me to make a presentation to a trade delegation from China on the subject of UK financial services regulation and the development of the new model adviser.

What’s stopping you?

Before I started, I had doubts that I would be able to complete the degree successfully. Was I smart enough? How would I find the time to study? Would I be supported by the course tutors to help me do my best?

I was surprised and relieved to find that the other Pathway students were mature students like myself, many running their own IFA businesses. We shared a desire to become better IFAs, to enhance our knowledge and demonstrate our commit-ment to our profession.

It was hard work and quite stressful but it was worth it. Receiving the degree on graduation day remains one of my life’s highlights. I feel that the experience has made me a better business- owner with a better understanding of the economic issues we face and a greater appreciation of the financial services regulatory environment.

I have demonstrated my desire to achieve a higher level of professionalism and feel that I can now feel proud in saying I am a financial planning professional.


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