The news that Aifa has decided to expand into education reminded me of video shops in the 1980s. Why, you ask? Well, I remember one shop did well, mainly due to the owners’ knowledge. Two or three opened nearby to try the same thing, minus the competence possessed by the original shopkeeper. As this was not followed by an explosion in the population, the shops went to the wall, demonstrating that dumbing things down or, in other words, hoping to survive without competence is never a smart move.
I must also say the motive behind this is not providing an alternative route but an easier one – those who say otherwise fool nobody. In the late 1990s, I was given the task of drafting the original G60 syllabus. I did so with the assistance of several of the best brains in pensions – sadly, two of them are no longer with us. The regulator also had the defining input into the scope of the exam, indeed, its breadth was often cited as why so many found it difficult. At one meeting of a cross-industry committee, I was asked if I could make the exam easier so that more people could pass. This seemed to miss the point that we are trying to prove a higher level of competence by development or by validation in such tests.
Is this exam not provided by the community of bankers that have been so derided by Aifa in the past? It would be funny if it was not so tragic that our sector sees dilution of standards as important at such a time when the regulator reports a total of £150m and counting as reparation costs for misselling. Now, I know that was not all IFAs, but irrespective of that we need to be showing willing instead of trying to limbo under the benchmarks.
Ironically, working through the exams would make individuals more confident and improve their businesses but that needs a long-term view. Sadly, the IFAs calling for easier routes – I refuse to use the bogus term alternative – are short term in their outlook and are no better than the often criticised bankers and their bonuses – perhaps that is why they make such easy bedfellows. If this exam does not make the grade, some people may need to look for alternative employment.
I realise that this column may inspire some of you to suggest that I do not know how hard it is to fit work around study or vice versa but I would beg to differ. I sat many of my exams when my children were at school and gave up personal time because I wanted to prove my competence.
I resigned from Aifa because of the over-influence of the productfloggers. Nothing seems to have changed and yet this is the time we need to embrace change if we are to influence its final form.
The other tragedy is that when all this comes to pass, the people driving it will have stolen the vital asset from those reluctant to sit exams, and that is time. If you are considering the easy route, may I suggest that when the general public are informed the value of this route as a measure of competence, your explanations need to be more impressive than your commitment to building your competence.
Robert Reid is managing director of Syndaxi Chartered Financial Planners