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Examine the examiners

Training plays a critically important role in our profession by broadening our knowledge which, in turn, enhances the service we provide to clients.

However, we do have a substantial problem within our industry caused by the need to obtain qualifications by examination.

We are successful businessmen and women who are already earning substantial salaries by providing a valuable and professional service to our clients. However, in order to continue doing what most of us have been doing very ethically for many years, our regulator has decreed that we must subject ourselves to written examinations.

I, and many like me, do not have the slightest problem with this. However, the examination system has got to be fair and transparent, preferably led by a non-profit-making organisation that subjects itself to regular review by those of us taking the exams.

To be blunt, a truly professional examining body would positively demand these simple quality controls for itself.

So, exactly who is standing in judgement on our examination papers and what is their motivation? The Chartered Insurance Institute is our principal examining body and works closely with our regulator to the extent that more and more client transactions can only be effected if we hold certain examination passes.

Thus, the CII qualifications, especially the Advanced Financial Planning Certificate, are revered. The power that the CII wields over us is really quite extensive. But is it offensive?

It will not benefit anyone within our industry if this institution becomes disaffected by the financial adviser community. The CII must start listening to its audience and move to a far more transparent and professional footing.

Suffice to say that my own attempts at the CII&#39s G60 exam were inexplicably rejected. After 19 years service as an IFA, I believed my final attempt at G60 was worthy of a good pass. Other people within our profession have also expressed surprise at my negative result.

At the very least, one must say something went substantially wrong with my attempts to pass this exam. With some indignation, not to say disbelief, I enquired into the practices at the CII and discovered several disturbing factors.

In the process of attempting G60, I enlisted myself on an extensive study course which was being tutored locally by a major UK pension provider. This particular course was being delivered by two very knowledgeable people who had been working for some years at the very top of our industry, both in administration and advising clients directly. Both tutors were also CII examination markers and I was able to acquire their trust and confidence over a number of training meetings.

Apparently, prior to each exam marking session, the markers are brought together with many others from around the country to be inst- ructed on the exam paper they are to mark. They are instructed on each question and are given very precise and clear authority on acceptable answers and presentation.

The markers are paid by the quantity of papers they mark and are discouraged from discussing the CII marking procedures with any-one. They are encouraged to put a line through anything they cannot read and are told that, if the precisely correct answer is not replicated, it is wrong.

This caused me some concern. I don&#39t know about you but, after years of using a word processor, my handwriting is atrocious (truthfully, it always was but it is worse now).

But I was even more disturbed when I asked my confidantes for examples of questions not being answered precisely. One example in particular sticks in my mind.

Question: “What do you have to do to establish a client&#39s state pension benefits?” Answer: “Fill in a BR19 form.” Correct? No, wrong. No points. Apparently, the correct answer is: “Fill in a BR19 form and post it to the DSS in Newcastle.”

Another illustration of the harshness of the marking regime is the length of time set for the exam. I am not in the least bit concerned about the length of the questions in the exam paper but why limit the time that can be taken to answer them?

Financial advisers most often criticise the exam for not allowing sufficient time to complete the paper and, perversely, one of the most often heard criticisms from the CII is that financial advisers generally do not answer all the exam questions.

Why, also, are we forbidden to take the question paper away from the exam afterwards and why are we not allowed to see our answer papers ever again? In fact, after any requests for remarking have been dealt with, which costs another fee, our answer papers are destroyed.

Add to this the fact that there is no set pass mark – because the CII simply picks a pass mark that fits the pass quota – and success in the exam becomes a bit of a lottery.

The CII&#39s prescriptive method of marking is not just failing very experienced advisers, it is failing our profession as a whole. These exam-inations should be testing our ability to produce solutions to clients&#39 problems, not the speed or style of our handwriting or whether we remember that once a form is filled out we have to post it.

I suggest just three simple changes to the current system would allow us to rebuild confidence in the CII without compromising standards.

Candidates should be provided with copies of the question paper and their answers after they have been marked so they can commit them-selves to further study while fully understanding where they previously fell down.

The restrictive time for answer-ing the paper should be extended within reason. Word processors should be allowed to be used in the exam, enabling businesspeople to complete the paper using their normal workday tools.

And stop moving the goalposts and fix the pass mark.

Once these simple steps have been taken, the CII could join in an even more serious debate on how it can assist responsible financial advisers to recruit and train newcomers to our profession, positively encouraging the influx of well-trained finan-cial advisers rather than discoura-ging established professionals with an examination system which itself goes unchecked.

We are not schoolchildren and the CII is most definitely not our schoolteacher.

The question I am posing is, will the CII rise to this challenge and fulfill its rightful and desperately valuable role within our profession or will it continue with the delusion that it is on a higher moral crusade, backed by the regulator, and is therefore immune?

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