Since the introduction of the Financial Services Act, the professionalism of IFAs has improved markedly. It is to their credit that IFAs have met and in many cases exceeded the regulatory requirements for academic achievement and CPD.
However, these demands continue to escalate and change shape using up valuable time that should be spent with clients. In addition, many IFAs have training needs required to address changes to the market where multi-ties, new distribution channels and technology have to be overcome.
But technology can be a solution to these problems rather than a challenge. With the range of technology solutions available today, IFAs can overcome these barriers and benefit from the positive aspects of training. We gather client information, carry out need analysis, generate reasons-why letters, gather our quotes, research products and communicate with our clients all using technology. Why not develop ourselves or our teams using these same technologies?
There are many online training programmes available in the marketplace, both specific to our industry and more generic, which are both interesting and effective.
Take the principle one step further – how could it help with compliance? Currently, regulators and internal auditors need to come and visit and look at these types of records in a paper-based format. If training development and testing were carried out electronically, the next logical step is to give regulators access to the records electronically, too.
Perhaps we are a little scared of the Big Brother scenario. Are we sure we really want a regulator or even an internal auditor looking at our records in this way? This mind-set needs to change.
With the pressures on margins that we all face, anything that reduces the admin burden anywhere within the business has got to be regarded as a good thing and reductions in numbers of physical visits from regulators has to be attractive.
I can envisage a world not very far away where, as an adviser, if I want to check my knowledge in any area, I can access a website, select an appropriate securitised test, sit the test onscreen and get feedback instantly. This approach already exists in other industries.
If I am part of a bigger business, the results of my tests could then be communicated to the relevant manager within the business and also logged electronically against my training and development record. At any time, I can view my training and development record onscreen, see what activities I need to undertake in the future, view the various programmes or solutions that are available and select and pay for the one that is most appropriate.
If I am sitting in the compliance or T&C officer's seat, when I want to determine how the people in my business are performing against the T&C requirements, I simply go and look at the cumulative training and development records in the database. I can see who is performing and who is not.
I can see who is carrying out the activities we expect and who is not. I can identify the amount of CPD completed or whatever new demands the FSA require and produce a summary report of the current status of the business in terms of its T&C scheme.
The first place we should be looking to apply technology within our businesses is where we currently have time-consuming processes or a traditional paper-based admin burden that technology could reduce. This would free up time, resources and create improvements in terms of the quality of the process.
I suggest that training and development is a prime candidate for the use of this sort of technology.
Jim Gaskin is corporate development director at Exchange FS