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Dumbing down is dumb

Former PFS president Rob Reid hits out at new Aifa qualification.

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

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Comments

There are 29 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. Agree completely. Level 6 ought to be the bare minimum for anyone wanting be called an Independent Financial Adviser. I certainly wouldn’t want to take complex advice from someone with only level 4.

    I would however be happy to be sold a simple product on a commission basis from someone with level 3 or less.

    Rather than mess around with level 4 and destroy an industry why not let all the professionals get on with level 6 and let the remaining 95% of us continue to sell on a commission basis and help close the savings and protection gap. The products sold could be regulated and restrictions placed on what could be sold.

    Dumbing down is not the answer

  2. I think that dumming down would make things gooder

  3. I think that Bob has got it bang on as far as IFAs are concerned. If we really want to be taken seriously as professionals (not acting professionally..this is a different thing) we have got to satisfy everyone we deserve the accolade

  4. Think that this is a great piece we should all take note that raising standards only benefits people that remain in the industry. I came into financial services when you needed FPC 1,2 and 3 to trade and remember the dinosaurs that were in the industry before then. The people that knocked on the doors am happy to transfer final salary pension schemes to personal pension contracts with no understanding of what they were doing.

    So it’s come time for us to embrace greater knowledge and not dumbed down as this report states.

  5. I agree that the qualifications should be difficult but make them more relevant to our job. If the CII stop trying to catch us out and concentrate more on testing the knowledge we require to do our job that, I as an IFA would find it much easier to study. You would then not have other companies working so hard to bring other examinations out. I wish the CII would listen but they never do and the other companies are only listening to how unhappy a lot of us are.

  6. Well I don’t know if it’s necessarily dumbing down, but having recently sat the JO4 paper, I would suggest that the industry could do with making exams a bit more pertinent to the job being done. Ploughing through the seemingly endless minutiae of DB, DC, EFRBS schemes et al has about as much relationship to my role as a general practitioner IFA as maintaining a pig farm in outer mongolia. By all means, have exams for Specialists, but give us something with, dare I say, a greater client focus and less jargon and monotonous detail. The current exam syllabuses seems to focus on geeks who may be good at remembering numerous details, but you wouldn’t want to be stuck in the same room with them!

  7. Rod Collins has got it spot on!

    I applaud the industry trying to raise standards. No issue with that at all.

    Why no recognition for CPD or internal network exams?

    CII/PFS should take heed. Relevant syllabus and fair exams designed to make us better advisers….

    A mark a minute covering a huge syllabus as J02 entails including Trusts, taxation of Trusts, Wills, intestacy, POAs and Bankruptcy!!! In the amount of detail to be examined on – which I took last Monday…….what’s the point?!

    I wasn’t aware being a speed writer was a necessary skill for being a good adviser!

  8. Iron Hayden Dip PFS 22nd April 2010 at 2:08 pm

    Absolutely spot on. Is RDR not about raising standards? The CII have confirmed this week that at some point in time it is likely that the J0 exams will become multiple choice. How does this raise the bar!? No doubt it is more profitable not having to pay someone to mark a paper.

  9. I find it strange that you all mainly seem to miss the ‘divide and rule’ mindset of people like Rob Reid. I am afraid that my experience and history goes a bit further than his short sightedness and I could pull a lot of very dirty laundry out of the basket once endorsed by his predecessors. We HAVE moved on but there is no need to constantly attack us from all sides. After all we pay all these people’s incomes whether they are CII PFS or FSA and they ought to remember that and instead of trying to kill us all off instead try to assist us in our mutual goal to be good at our jobs, which frankly most IFA’s are.
    Comparisons with other ‘professions’ are not helpful either as those professions developed in a more ‘orderly’ fashion without constant threats and lack of support.
    Please stop carping on about this and do your jobs.Your selfish self-interest is badly misplaced.

  10. Peter J Chesworth 22nd April 2010 at 2:37 pm

    Have I missed something? How can the proposed AIFA QCF level 5 qualification be a dumbing down from the CII QCF level 4 RDR required qualification. Undoubtedly, it is of a lower standard than the CII level 6 of the Chartered Financial Plannner but it would seem to be of higher level than the (reported) QCF Level 4 of the IFP Certified Financial Planner.

    At least we know now who to blame to the largely irrelevant content of the G60, thanks a lot Robert.

  11. I have never heard such a lot of crap talked by so many about a single topic. All this talk about being able to have a better business after getting the qualifications? who do think you are trying to fool. I have been in this business since the 80’s and one thing will never change. the sales process. You still have to pick up the phone, make appointments, do a fact find and sell to needs – end of. Having Level 4 5 or 6 is going to make absoultely no difference to the vast majority if IFA’s in the market place. It is not going to help any of us sell more pensions, ISAs unit trusts, bonds (God did I use the “b” word?) term, phi or cic. IFA’s are still salesmen and women when you take away all the glossy crap that revolves around our profession. According to a recent article I read 94% of UK IFA’s currently earn a living on the age old initial commission and renewal/trail structure. In other words they get paid to sell and there is nothing worng with that either. Selling is a wonderful profession to be involved and we should be very proud of what we do. Even if you charge fees you are still salespeople. You sell the client a product in 1 way or another and get paid to so, albeit by the client directly instead of the provider. Guys get off your high horses with qualification ego trip.

  12. If anyone out there is as old as me and did O’levels you will remember that some of them were arranged by University of London and others by Oxford & Cambridge- there were probably more but these were the two sets that my school used, depending on which syllabus offered by each board was deemed by the teachers to be most suitable (tudor or twentieth century history being a good example).
    All that matters is that I have an O’level, not which board offered it.
    The point of Ofqual and a national qualifications framework is that if a paper is deemed, not by Robert or CII or IFS or even IFAs, but by the authorities to be Level 4, 5 or 6 then it’s up to standard.
    Just like other professionals who gain their professional qualifications from a range of educational establishments in fact.

  13. I agree with the article – it’s all about making things easy for those who can’t be bothered. I do also think that sometimes the CII exams ar a little bizarre in content, but with one or two exceptions you can chose the exams which suit you the most, so why all the bellyaching.

  14. Dismayed IFA / Salesman 22nd April 2010 at 3:35 pm

    I agree with Marty Young and I have never heard such a load of pretentious balls from so many people who, apparently, have delusions of grandeur. Who do you lot think you are?

    If your clients are long standing, loyal and happy and you don’t get complaints you are almost certainly doing things right whether you get paid commission or fees.

    I think I’m going to vomit.

  15. As someone not in financial services but will occasionally take advice (though not from a bank), is someone going to explain to me one day what a level 4 to 6 qualification is and what it represents??

    I always enjoy reading these comments and how the FSA is awful, banks just want money and don’t care about individuals and IFAs are hard done by.

    However, it is very rare I find any comment that says I do it this way because that is helpful to the client ie me.

    This is just as much a question for the FSA admittedly, but it would be nice to see how RDR, qualifications etc actually benefits me in real terms, not the rubbish jargon I read on various websites.

    PS I also have to do qualifications for my role, but at least I understand that is necessary if I want to be considered a professional. A lesson that could be taken on board by many here, even if exams are not wholly relevant (and they are not for me either), but they do build confidence. Which is much needed at this point of time.

  16. In my experience, those who generate the majority of misselling costs are also those who are “taken off the road” by their sales hungry bosses to ensure they can pass any such required exams, en masse!

    Please discuss…

  17. Manchester Cynic 22nd April 2010 at 4:00 pm

    “I sat many of my exams when my children were at school and gave up personal time because I wanted to prove my competence”

    Bet he had a wife to look after the children and him while he did it, eh?

  18. Iron Hayden Dip PFS 22nd April 2010 at 4:53 pm

    Absolutely spot on. Is RDR not about raising standards? The CII have confirmed this week that at some point in time it is likely that the J0 exams will become multiple choice. How does this raise the bar!? No doubt it is more profitable not having to pay someone to mark a paper.

  19. Look, its easy…those who don’t want to sit exams or complain that they are irrelevant are a waste of time.

    Doing exams gives you confidence and more information to target new business opportunities. I sat the AF3 module last year and learnt a whole new range of ideas which I have subsequently used to generate a massive piece of fee only business. Without that exam, I doubt I would have been able to convince the CEO and FD that I knew the whole picture.

    Ok, those who have “experience” can say the whole picture comes with experience. But I beat the top 4 big boys to get this case with “no experience”….in that type of corporate work anyway.

    So, its easy. If you have the experience, you should be able to pass the exam. Yes the CII ask irrelevant questions, but when compared to Medical exams IFAs do have a stroll in the park. Doctors combine on calls, heavy workloads, kids and many more to pass ridiculously hard exams, so give us all a break and stop complaining. Its pathetic.

    Thanks to one exam I won a big piece of business…guess what, I’m going to be doing more exams!

  20. It is worth pointing out that the CII examinations are written by practitioners from across the industry. They are also marked, moderated and invigilated by practising advisers. The CII is a not-for-profit professional body and advisers should be reassured that we listen to their feedback.
    We hope to outline our proposed RDR-compliant qualification shortly and we believe you will see that we have taken on board many of the views expressed by advisers, specifically around cost, support materials and flexibility..

  21. To Harry @11.32

    Glad all those exams helped you “learnt” something.

  22. Dumber and dumberer.

    Should have gone to Specsavers?

  23. What would your client really think of you if you told him at the outset of your first meeting that you are “proud to be a salesman” as opposed to being “proud to be a professional” in the industry you work in? I have found the exams I have taken to be invaluable in the development of my career, the remunaration I can command, and how I am percieved by my client’s and my peers. I too have been in the industry for years, had the same clients for a great deal of that time, have never had a complaint and could have sat on those laurels but for a desire for personal development and the authority backed up by the qualifications that I now hold. I will also still be in work after 2012!

  24. maybe if we had sorted out the professionalism in the industry a while ago we wouldn’t have continued headlines like £12M pyramid fraud went on for five years. or all the others we find,

    competent properly qualified people are less likely to perform fraud as they are more likely to be great at their job instead of a shylock

  25. Just picking up on an earlier thread, the Certified Financial Planner exam is confidently expected by the IFP to be awarded a level 6 rating; since you have to have a level 4 qualification before you can attempt it this the suggestion that it will itself finish up a level 4 designation appears unlikely to put it mildly.

    I gather the IFP have also submitted a paraplanner exam which is aimed at level 4 which may explain the confusion.

  26. Look, its easy…those who don’t want to sit exams or complain that they are irrelevant are a waste of time.

    Doing exams gives you confidence and more information to target new business opportunities. I sat the AF3 module last year and learnt a whole new range of ideas which I have subsequently used to generate a massive piece of fee only business. Without that exam, I doubt I would have been able to convince the CEO and FD that I knew the whole picture.

    Ok, those who have “experience” can say the whole picture comes with experience. But I beat the top 4 big boys to get this case with “no experience”….in that type of corporate work anyway.

    So, its easy. If you have the experience, you should be able to pass the exam. Yes the CII ask irrelevant questions, but when compared to Medical exams IFAs do have a stroll in the park. Doctors combine on calls, heavy workloads, kids and many more to pass ridiculously hard exams, so give us all a break and stop complaining. Its pathetic.

    Thanks to one exam I won a big piece of business…guess what, I’m going to be doing more exams!

  27. to lol:

    lol to the fact that you only managed to pick up a a typo! well done!

  28. to harry
    thanks
    appreciate it

  29. In all businesses, it is those with people skills that rise to the top. Knowledge alone will not increase business but knowledge and people skills will.

    Problematically, those without knowledge rarely understand the damage they may be doing. The simplicity of a product is no guide to the complex nature of the problem. Remember FSAVCs? COMPS? PP Transfers?

    Ultimately, Chartered or Certified status (or greater) should be the ambition of all IFAs. More importantly, IFAs should understand the knowledge gap between O Level and Degree levels. Few do.

    Why is the minimum level set at 1st year degree level? Isn’t this an A Level plus a year of partying? Surely it will only be the stepping stone, with additional compulsory exam modules to be added? Time to knuckle down before it is too late.

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