With more than a million companies yet to set up their auto-enrolment schemes, there may be plenty of opportunities for advisers. But given the complex nature of the market, should advisers giving auto-enrolment advice study for the Pensions Management Institute’s Certificate in Pensions Automatic Enrolment?
The PMI launched this qualification in October 2012 and by the start of this year, 1,000 people across the profession had taken it. The PMI says the exam initially appealed to employee benefits consultants and those working in HR. But as staging dates for small and medium-sized companies have drawn closer, the exam’s appeal has increased.
“Most candidates over the last 12 months have been IFAs,” says PMI technical consultant Tim Middleton. “The certificate gives them credibility when talking to clients as they can demonstrate they have the understanding to design a scheme. It gives advisers a competitive edge.
“The size of the employers going through the auto-enrolment process now are heavily dependent on advisers to design and implement a scheme. We think the certificate is of more benefit and relevance to advisers at this point in time,” he says.
Sanlam UK head of employee benefits Elliot Silk agrees. He says: “We encourage all Sanlam UK advisers to undertake the PMI certificate as it adds credibility to our work with corporate clients. When dealing with corporates, advisers need to be confident about the detail of auto-enrolment. This is what the certificate provides.”
But IFA firm LEBC divisional director of group savings and investments Glynn Jones takes a different view. He says LEBC considered whether to have the PMI exam as a standard threshold for advice but decided not to.
“It will not address the fast-chang-ing real issues of auto-enrolment, such as how to ensure compliance, what payroll providers can do and the changing practicalities. Auto-enrolment is a very fast-moving landscape and such a ‘fixed’ exam cannot, in my view, keep up with developments,” says Jones.
“If we had it as a standard, would it generate more clients and client work? We don’t think so. Would it give LEBC more industry recognition? We don’t think so.”
JLT Employee Benefits director Mark Pemberthy believes the PMI certificate should be considered by those who do not have an internal training programme for auto-enrolment. But he sees theoretical knowledge as just a foundation. “The biggest challenges of auto-enrolment are in the application of that knowledge. For that there is no substitute for experience,” he says.
Charles Derby Group employee benefits development manager Peter Whymark agrees.
He says: “Having recently read the study material, I can see that it has a great deal of benefit for those who want to be successful in this market. However, it is the application of knowledge that is probably equally or even more important.
“A number of experienced advisers venturing into the AE arena for the first time, who may have been used to a GPP sale, suddenly have to deal with all manner of tasks, including HR and payroll matters. There is definitely a lot more to understand and to do. I feel the PMI material does give you the confidence to wear both hats as it were, especially by including case studies at key points to reinforce the learning.”