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Independent view

In my day it was quite unusual to take a gap year. So I ended up going through school with all the examinations that entailed, straight to university and more exams. I remember when I got the results, saying I will never take another exam in my life.

School had involved regular exams. My university degree meant taking exams each year. I had taken eight grades on the violin, seven on the piano, five in music theory, various sports exams, the driving test and even got a first aid certificate. At 21, I felt that was enough for life.

When I started out in financial services, it would have been impossible to do a financial services degree. The ACII was the only qualification that really existed and it was not very relevant to financial planning.

Of course, all this has changed and for the better. The early days of regulation identified that clients could be mis-sold not through wilful negligence but through ignorance. I had to break my promise of not taking any more exams, and sit the necessary qualifications. As many advisers know, it is difficult once you are out of the swim of studying to get back into it, particularly if the gap has been decades rather than years.

It takes time and commitment to prepare for study and take exams.

Not much is written about the benefits of study from a client perspective and this is something which I think needs to be debated more.

Apart from the evident lesser risk of misadvising clients, which is protection for the firm as much as for the client, there are incredible benefits from additional qualifications. In saying that, there is no point in having qualifications just for the sake of a piece of paper, if you do not use the knowledge and apply it in your everyday work. Indeed, it can sometimes be a good thing even if you fail an exam if it means you study more thoroughly and retain more knowledge.

Advising clients has to be able to provide me with interesting work. There are certain types of clients who are not going to provide me with the stimulus that is important to me. Filtering clients is not such an easy thing to do when you are building a client bank but you can do it once your client bank has matured and you can pick and choose the types of business you take on.

What I have found is that the debates and conversations that you have with clients once you have better knowledge are much more interesting. Not only will clients benefit but an adviser will also be able to handle more complex and interesting forms of business. I see this as a big motivation for continued study.

The ability to handle complex forms of advice and clients is a skill worth obtaining. Days are more interesting when you deal with clients at this level and you can charge fees appropriately. More knowledge equals higher fees and commission earnings.

From an employer perspective, higher-qualified staff mean lower risks in what is increasingly a litigious world. Promotion prospects going forward are better for the individual who will have more to contribute to the firm. High-earners with low risk is a doubly attractive proposition for an employer.

We have been recruiting staff and I am disappointed to see a high proportion of advisers and support staff from firms where study is not encouraged.

People look to move job because they feel unsettled but much of the motivation is the lack of investment by a firm in personal development.

I am pleased and proud that we have a culture that encourages not only our advisers but also our support staff to take exams. It becomes easy to discuss and encourage from experience how tough an exam was or which points to look out for. With seven certified financial planners now, more than any other IFA firm, the results bear out the practice.

What motivates me to pick up yet another course book is the thought that somewhere in it there will be pearls of wisdom that will help me in the advice that I give to clients. It will enable me to tackle more complex and interesting forms of business and to earn appropriately. I know that the equation of the time that I will spend studying for the exams will result in increased turnover for the firm and earnings for myself.

So perhaps it will only be when I retire that I can properly fulfil the wish that I expressed when I finished university and really hang up the mortarboard and gown and not take exams anymore.

Amanda Davidson is a partner at Charcol Holden Meehan


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