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Frame academy misses its cue

I have spent a great deal of the last 20 years lobbying for standards of knowledge and skills in the financial services sector.

It has always seemed to me that the reputation of financial advisers and, indeed, of our entire sector should rest on a firm foundation of independently tested knowledge and skills which demonstrates to the public that we are able to do a good job for them. The effects of these standards need to be evident in our day-to-day activities to ensure the public experience of our services is positive.

As a result of a good deal of lobbying, we achieved a very significant step forward in the 1990s by establishing compulsory exams for financial advisers, the FPC and equivalent. We also established that there needs to be continuing professional development. The latter was not quite so successful because there was very little specific guidance as to what people should do.

Of course, the exams have been revised and updated, for example, with the CII&#39s recent introduction of a savings and investments exam.

The launch of the Financial Assess facility now enables advisers to undertake structured CPD, for it to be monitored by employers and for a CPD log to be maintained.

On the back of this activity, the FSA has been reviewing exams and has now delegated that role to the Skills Council for Financial Services. On September 10, David Jackman unveiled his new framework. The fact that this looks remarkably like CP157, with a few adjustments, does leave something of a feeling of disappointment.

I do not know whether I am alone in being concerned that the FSA has said that the decision on which exams must be taken rests with employers – although employers can use evidence that they have consulted the Skills Council&#39s list to convince those who raise questions that they have followed the right path. The clarity of approved exams has been lost in favour of appropriate exams.

One question which I think needs to be answered is whether we are talking about exams and CPD alone or whether, as Jackman has suggested, there is another formal element in the workplace mix – an assessment of whether an adviser can do the job. So far, we have seen no details of this and I wonder how it is to be evidenced at a national level in a way which would back up the professional standing of the financial adviser.

Professional standing is a key issue. An essential part of the lobby for qualifications is that financial advisers would be seen as truly professional if they were properly qualified. If each employer can mix and match modules and add in some in-house training, it will no longer be possible to see what standards people have reached in the sector as a whole.

A final point is that we have yet to see a cost-benefit analysis of the new Skills Council recipe. The FSA is obliged to undertake a cost-benefit exercise but presumably the Skills Council is not. I would hope it takes on board the need for this, in view of the fact that many employers are trying to assess how the new approach will affect their costs.

There are a good many questions to be answered. I am afraid, quite bluntly, that the path ahead does not look clear at present.

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