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Level headed

It is very easy to forget just how quickly changes in the mortgage industry have taken place, significantly altering the way in which products and services are delivered to the consumer and giving those consumers assurances as to the standard of service they receive.

It is only a relatively short time ago when minimum standards were set for mortgage advice, covering both sales processes and the skill levels of advisers.

For those who worked through those developmental years, the most significant element was that the changes were largely instigated by the adviser community, with very large numbers taking the decision to demonstrate their knowledge by the achievement of a relevant professional qualification and to measure their advice by reference to an industry wide code of behaviour.

Those same individuals still form the backbone of the industry.

In the field of investment advice, the retail distrib-ution review has proposed that the benchmark qualification should be raised from a certificate qualification at qualification and credit framework level 3 to a diploma level 4.

A great many investment advisers have already set out on the journey to achieving this higher level, thereby ensuring they not only retain their competitive position but also ensuring that they are able to continue to offer their clients the most knowledgeable and professional service.

The FSA has been quite clear in all of their comments on the RDR that there will be no automatic read-across into other areas of financial services so there is no suggestion yet that mortgage advisers will be required to meet a similar threshold level.

However, if advisers on different products are to hold different levels of qualification, consumers may well take the view that different levels of competence apply.

While such an impression might not be justified, it does seem that mortgage advisers have an opportunity to grasp the initiative for themselves, anticipating any move by the FSA or the Financial Services Skills Council, and push now for the introduction of relevant diploma qualifications at level 4.

Driving up levels of professionalism from within the industry would demonstrate a clear commitment by individuals to provide the highest standards to their clients and would be a positive message to consumers to enable them to put their faith in their chosen adviser.

When mortgage advice qualifications were first intro-duced, the response was totally positive and there can be little doubt now that they had a significant impact on the consumer experience.

Has the time now come to take the next step – it is not exams for exams sake, but a case of raising standards and building the profession.

Richard Fox is chief executive of the Society of Mortgage Professionals

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