Catriona Standingford: Exam options for entry-level staff

StandingfordCatriona

Discussions about qualifications usually revolve around Level 4 or Level 6. However, many businesses have a need to train staff who have little or no knowledge of financial services, and who do not need to jump in at the deep end with Level 4 exams. Indeed, we often hear from managers that are not sure where to start with regards to helping their support and administration staff learn what is necessary to perform their role well. The difficulty is knowing what path to put them on, and what qualification should be aimed for.

The CII offers three basic routes. There is a qualification for those working in life and pensions, another specifically aimed at investments, and a third which incorporates all areas and provides the most flexibility in terms of exam choices. Note that other award and certificate level qualifications are available but the qualifications discussed here are best for entry- and introductory-level candidates.

At Level 2 we have the Award in Life and Pensions Foundations, which currently has only one exam: LF1. This is a truly entry-level qualification providing a solid grounding in these key areas. It may prove a little too basic for some staff but for those with no experience it is an ideal way to get them to dip their toes in exam waters.

For those who could do with a little more content, it may be worth diving into Level 3 and the Award in Financial Administration, again working in life and pensions. This is described as an introductory qualification by the CII but is more in-depth than the Award in Life and Pensions. It also offers two routes.  Either way, you have to sit CF1 (Level 3 UK financial services, regulation and ethics) or R01 (Level 4 Financial services, regulation and ethics) and then choose either FA1 (Level 3 Life office administration) or FA2 (Level 3 Pensions administration). We tend to advise this as the first port of call for support and administration staff working in life and pensions with no knowledge of financial services.

But what if life and pensions is not the area your staff are working in? Well, another option is the Level 3 exam, Certificate in Investment Operations. To obtain this qualification candidates must pass either CF1 (Level 3 UK financial services, regulation and ethics) or R01 (Level 4 Financial services, regulation and ethics) and then one of either FA4 (Level 3 Collective investment scheme administration), FA5 (Level 3 Individual savings account administration) or FA6 (Level 3 Investment client servicing).

Of course there is nothing stopping a candidate from doing more than one of FA4, FA5 or FA6 if their job role is relevant. If that is the case, they would be on course to achieve the Certificate in Financial Services, which we discuss next.

So the CII provides two introductory qualification routes: one for life and pensions, and another for investments. But if you are looking for something that covers life, pensions and investments, then the Level 3 Certificate in Financial Services would be your best bet. As usual, candidates must pass either CF1 (Level 3 UK financial services, regulation and ethics) or R01 (Level 4 Financial services, regulation and ethics) but can then choose to sit either FA7 (Level 3 Financial services products) or any two of FA1 (Level 3 Life office administration), FA2 (Level 3 Pensions administration), FA4 (Level 3 Collective investment scheme administration), FA5 (Level 3 Individual savings account administration) or FA6 (Level 3 Investment client servicing).

The Certificate in Financial Services is more of a mix-and-match qualification that can be tailored to the job role of the candidate, and you could certainly argue its flexibility makes it the best option available. However, some candidates do find it easier to achieve the Award in Financial Administration or Certificate in Investment Operations before moving on to the Certificate in Financial Services.

Whichever option works best for you and your staff, there is no doubt a solid grounding in financial services can be gained through sitting exams. The basic qualifications also provide a path onwards to Level 4 if that is what is ultimately required.

Do note that the exam and qualification landscape is continually changing and there are changes afoot in the qualification range offered by the CII later in 2016.

Catriona Standingford is managing director at Brand Financial Training