One key element of the RDR has been the importance attached to professional standards. There can be no doubt that consumers have benefited from the higher standards that are now adopted by all advisers and the increasing market share being captured by intermediaries recognises the value that consumers place on the services these firms are able to offer.
However, acting in a professional manner goes beyond holding a relevant qualification. Being a professional requires individuals to take action to ensure that their level of knowledge is constantly updated to keep them abreast of developments in regulation and in the market. Training and competence requirements are clear on the need for continuing development to be able to demonstrate competence.
Individuals must adopt a structured programme of self-development based on identifying areas where knowledge needs to be reinforced and then undertaking learning activities to ensure these areas are attended to. This process is referred to as continuing professional development. CPD does not have to be a stand-alone activity and is normally embedded in normal business activities. Done properly, it ensures that practitioners keep themselves up to date with market developments and that they develop their understanding of business and are able to recognise how they should be reacting to keep their business relevant to the needs of clients.
Key elements of CPD include taking on board information from the national and trade press, studying product material to fully understand features and benefits, attending trade shows to keep abreast of best practice and using seminars and conferences. Choosing carefully from the wide range of available events will ensure exposure to key issues and give opportunities to ask questions to enhance understanding.
Many individuals do take advantage of these opportunities, which are often free, but there are still many practitioners who for some reason do not attend.
Professional bodies require individuals to keep a log of CPD activities and carry out audits to check members meet requirements. FSA rules require that all staff who carry out regulated activities keep a competency record showing they are maintaining the required standards. There can be little excuse for those who do not keep themselves up to the mark.
Richard Fox is chief executive of the Society of Mortgage Professionals