Gap of the gods

I take my hat off to the 2,000-plus individuals who have already spent years of their careers differentiating themselves by seeking further know-ledge, investing substantial amounts of time and money to offer a high level of financial advice as a chartered practitioner.

The retail distribution review aside, the minority of IFAs who have already achieved chartered status off their own backs in the pursuit of professional status have done so without the regulator deciding their minimum standards or giving them a timescale to work to. Granted, the announcement of the RDR prompted advisers to make early advancements but some had already decided that the direction and future of their businesses would involve exceeding the minimum requirements.

However, one of the latest revelations to come out of the RDR is that these advisers, at the pinnacle of our profession, are not at the required standard with respect to qualifications.

Advisers who have an RDR qualification which requires gap-filling will have to fill the voids via an exam and/or gap-filling to demonstrate that they are appropriately qualified under the RDR requirements. The areas you must cover are regulation and ethics, investment, tax, pensions, protection and financial planning.

Full details of what gap-filling will look like will be revealed next month but some of our most qualified professionals have expressed their frustrations to me.

To add insult to injury, it would be possible for advisers currently at level three to achieve an RDR-ready level four qualification before existing chartered financial planners, currently at level six, can tackle their gap-filling requirements.

It would be wrong of me not to take a balanced view and while I am standing up for chartered financial planners, I recognise that some syllabuses of the qualifications they will have taken a number of years ago will not have covered the learning outcomes now required. But I still cannot help feeling that the champ-ions of this element of RDR have been alienated through the process.

I read recently about someone with a doctorate in financial planning who has “knowledge gaps to fill” in order to satisfy the regulator. Would this happen in other professions? I suggest not.

I speak to our members on a daily basis and once the dust settles, I do not believe they are necessarily averse to the concept of gap-filling. If anything, they embrace raising standards but they are understandably bewildered at what they have to do because of a lack of clarity.

IFAs feel that the bar is constantly moving and may continue to do so. New rules are introduced and no one seems to stop and say “this is what you need to do”, without a U-turn being thrown in at some point. Something about “no regrets” comes to mind.

Over the last few years, we have been given many ambiguous phrases to guide us but what do you really need to do to be absolutely RDR-ready?

One thing everyone must know is that if you have a qualification which is level four but this was achieved before June, you will have to gap-fill.

It is essential you know this and if you are not a member of a professional body, you will have no idea what your gaps are and how you are going to find out. To compound matters, even when you know your gaps, how do you fill them?

Advisers who have achieved level four or above who are not RDR-ready but are CII/PFS members can use the gap-fill diagnostic tool to help guide you. For non-members, every individual will have a gap in at least financial services regulation and ethics unless you sat the exam this year.

With a deadline of December 2012, IFAs are going to struggle with a lack of time and it is almost unbelievable there is still so much to be confirmed.

People only just starting their journey to qualify will potentially be RDRready before advisers who have taken the time to become level six.

Most important, excepting those advisers that have qualified since June, everybody will have work to do. It would just be beneficial if they knew exactly what that was.