Catriona Standingford: Is there room for more exam options?


We often get potential candidates contacting us to ask about the different exam and qualification options on offer from the various examining bodies. It is clear there already exists some level of confusion about the “best” (easiest? cheapest? most desirable?) path to take to Level 4.

With this in mind, I will look at the new Level 4 financial planning qualification due this year as a direct result of the Institute of Financial Planning and the Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment merger, and ask if yet another route to that level of qualification and beyond is really needed.

As one of the key aims of the IFP and CISI merger was to grow financial planning in terms of both membership and qualification it comes as no surprise to see new options are being developed in an effort to persuade more advisers to become chartered wealth managers and/or certified financial planners.

Indeed, CISI chief executive Simon Culhane recently said in an interview: “In five years’ time, we want to see a fivefold increase in the number of planners taking exams and a doubling of the number of qualified certified financial planner professionals.”

Currently, the CISI offers a private client unit in its Level 4 Investment Advice Diploma. This unit focuses on retail investment products. The plan for 2016 is to augment the private client unit so it includes the content of the principles of financial planning unit, which forms part of CISI’s Certificate in Paraplanning and Diploma in Financial Planning. This unit will meet requirements for Level 4 and be a part of the Investment Advice Diploma.

But do advisers really need yet more options when choosing which exams to sit and what qualifications to achieve? Options are great but there is already a great deal of confusion among some industry professionals about what exams to take, and the danger is more options may muddy the waters further.

On the other side of the coin, however, you could say this push into Level 4 territory is a welcome distraction from the alternative Chartered Insurance Institute and Institute of Financial Services routes.

I recently had a chat with exam tutors Upsilon Wealth Management’s Samuel Mayes, who said if you scratch beneath the surface and analyse the learning style and approach for each qualification you may find alternative strengths (and weaknesses) in each offering that are suited to individual learners. He makes a good point.

Perhaps there is room for more exam options and qualifications if they provide different methods of learning that suit different types of learners. Only time will tell what the response will be and whether this new Level 4 qualification will put pressure on others. We watch with interest.

Catriona Standingford is managing director at Brand Financial Training