Financial Skills Partnership chief executive Liz Field has a year of challenges ahead as the industry wrestles with the retail distribution review and Government reforms look set to overhaul the education system.
But the fact the FSP exists at all to meet the challenges is a victory as its future was looking far from certain when Field took over as interim chief executive of what was then called the Financial Services Skills Council in 2009.
It was under Government review, with then skills minister John Denham saying it did not meet “the standard required”. If the FSSC’s licence had been revoked by the Commission for Employment and Skills, it would have spelled the end of the organisation. However, following a full review and five redundancies, the FSSC was spared in March 2010.
Field believes lessons have been learnt from the review. She says: “It is always valuable to sit back and see how others see you. The same is true of an organisation because it is always important to understand what it is your customers want rather than just assuming you know what they want. It was clear they valued an impartial organisation that could be their voice to influence Government and other key players in the skills arena. To meet this need, we have introduced a new corporate governance structure to ensure even stronger employer representation than we had previously.”
The new structure has seen the introduction of five sector sub-committees, made up of people from the industry, with representatives from the committees sitting on the FSP board.
Field was made permanent chief executive in May last year following Trevor Matthews’ appointment as chairman in April and several key changes have been made since then.
First, the FSP converted to charitable status in October 2010 and the decision was also taken to change the name.
Field says a number of other sector skills councils had already converted to charitable status and it made sense for the FSSC to follow suit. “This will allow us to receive access to funding to support the industry skills agenda.”
She feels the decision to rename the organisation should be an improvement for its goals and range of remit. “Our review revealed the industry and awarding bodies were looking for a collaborative approach to meeting skills challenges and we felt our name could better reflect this, hence the word partnership. We had also taken responsibility for finance and accountancy, which was not reflected in our name.”
Field’s varied career has included stints at Gerrard Asset Management, as well as running her own consultancy and heading the Insurance Industry Training Council.
She expects the RDR to have a significant impact on the work of the FSP and lobbying on this issue is one of her two priorities for 2011. “We have voiced the industry’s concerns to the Treasury select committee, not about the prin- ciples behind RDR professionalism but how it will be implemented.”
She acknowledges that the alphabet soup of qualifications has been an issue in financial services for some time but is proud of the work the FSP has done working with the FSA to develop the new framework for QCF level four exams.
“The FSP has always supported the principles of the RDR professionalism strand and consulted closely with the FSA as part of the consultation process. We were responsible for the facilitation of the new examination standards with the industry and believe they are appropriate for purpose.”
The FSA has suggested the eventual goal for adviser qualifications may be increased to QCF level six at some point but Field says this has yet to be finalised and it should not be forgotten that qualifications are only one part of being professional. “The focus during the RDR professionalism debate has often been on technical knowledge, when we all know this is just one aspect of competence, with skills and behaviour/ethics being equally important or more important.”
One advantage of driving up the level of qualifications and perceived level of professionalism could be that the financial services industry makes itself much more attractive to future recruits.
“It is important we attract new entrants to the advice sector where there are concerns about the average age of the existing workforce. It is likely that raising the professional status of the sector will attract more people who see it as a career option on the same level as the rest of the professions.”
Field says the FSP has put a lot of effort into its online careers service, called Directions, to raise the industry’s profile and make it more accessible.
With Government changes to university tuition fees, young people may consider trying to go straight into employment, Field says the industry should be doing more to entice high-calibre school-leavers. The FSP has already set up a pilot for a work experience scheme and this could be expanded to support an industry intern programme.
Born: Scotland, 1962
Education: BSc Psychology, Open University, MSc Occupational Psychology, Birkbeck, Chartered Fellow CIPD
Career: 2009-present: CEO of FSSC; 2005-09: MD of own consultancy business; 2002-05: head of organisational development at Gerrard Stockbrokers; 1997-2002: CEO of the Banks and Building Societies National Training Organisation, CEO of the Financial Services National Training organisation; 1989-97: CEO at the Insurance Industry Training Council; 1981-89: Kent County Council, supplies, highways and IT, traffic Kent Police.
Likes: Being active, spending time with family, waterskiing
Dislikes: Tomato soup
Drives: Honda CR-V
Book: Just finished the Stieg Larsson Millennium Trilogy
Film: Dr Zhivago and Lawrence of Arabia
Album: Buena Vista Social Club
Career ambition: To have as many challenging and exciting opportunities as possible
Life ambition: To know I have made a difference to the world and to be a great role model for my kids and others
If I wasn’t doing this I would be…Volunteering with the National Trust