The Financial Services Skills Council recently called us all in for yet another account of the progress of the examination review.
The review kicked off at the end of the 1990s and everyone will have read CP157, the various interim documents and the latest document, CP194, on which the FSA will give its feedback next month.
We were told in 1999 that a new exam framework for all those who fall under FSA regulation would provide a modular structure, career mobility and international acceptance. Last year, we were told that the Skills Council would deliver the necessary standards. I am afraid we as yet have none of these features in the minimal proposals which have come forward.
Many people argue that the Skills Council and FSA should be setting a more ambitious level for exams but we must remember that the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority sits above this structure. The FPC and equivalent are set at level 3. To argue that we should move to the next QCA level (level 4) presupposes that advisers could get up to something like AFPC or higher. An enforcement of that process would quite frankly decimate the sector. But there is nothing to stop us from gradually pushing up the level, as the CII has done with its savings and investment exam and its half-credits related to the AFPC. Voluntary action to move to level 4 is a very good thing but we cannot enforce the pace.
We are likely to see the compulsory exams stay at the same level as the FPC and equivalent although the content may be improved, provided the new learning objectives and syllabuses published soon by the Skills Council do the job.
A big issue in the new framework is the proposed workplace-based advice skills module. If the Skills Council insists on its idea that the advice skills module would be largely dealt with by workplace assessment, we would lose the objective testing which is so important. Objective testing is needed for communicating the level of knowledge to the consumer, to ensure quality of adviser/consumer interaction and to assist employment mobility for those in the business. Returning to in-house assessment would mean that anyone wishing to seek a new job would not have clear objective credentials to present to a new potential employer.
There is nothing to stop exam bodies from providing objective testing but we need the Skills Council to clearly signal that advice skills should be objectively tested as well as assessed in the workplace. We have a lot of work to do. Will the Skills Council perform the functions envisaged for it?
John Ellis is head of public affairs at the LIA