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At the Money Marketing Academy, we are frequently asked by advisers for guidance on the most appropriate qualification route to reach the required RDR exam standards for the next December’s deadline.
Cherry Reynard reviews the options available for getting qualified to QCF level 4 and what to consider when making your choice.
For those advisers already looking ahead to the gold standard of level 6, there is also the consideration of building a good foundation of technical knowledge to go on to achieve chartered or certified status. PFS chartered financial planner of the year Joel Adams and Clayden Associates founder and director Daniel Clayden give their experiences of attaining their Level 6 qualifications.
Once started, it can sometimes feel a lonely journey to qualifications, especially for sole practitioners and those without the support of a large organisation, and it is great to see so many advisers sharing hints, tips and even study notes among themselves on discussion forums such as LinkedIn. Our new website, in the final stages of development, will aim to bring much of this support and advice together in one place and we will welcome your input. Look out for more announcements soon.

The FSA has set level 4 as the minimum requirement for advisers for RDR compliance. This has initiated both a race among advisers to get qualified in time and a range of new providers launching level 4 qualification options. Many advisers report finding the options bewildering and remain unsure as to which option will give them the best long-term outcome in terms of their career and regulatory compliance.

Advisers will have a number of things to consider when deciding on a route to level 4: different qualifications will be more appropriate for different types of advisers. For example, the IMC level 4 and CFA level 1 exams may be more appropriate for specialist investment advisers whereas the IFS exams may suit a more generalist adviser. Advisers need to consider the type of clients they current advise and those they wish to advise in the future.

They will also need to consider the reputation of the exam and whether that suits their current career goals they will need to look at how the different exams are viewed by employers in the sector, for example.

Timing will also be important, with some routes shorter than others. Also, different groups offer different exam formats, for example, online, in-house assessment, so advis’Many advisers report finding the options bewildering and remain unsure as to which option will give them the best long-term outcome in terms of their career and regulatory compliance’

ers have to decide which study option suits them best. There will also be specific considerations, such as how existing qualifications/points are taken into account by the providers.

There are now five main options for advisers looking to sit level 4. The first is the CII’s diploma in regulated financial planning. This is considered the most “academic” of the options. It is a well-trodden path, widely recognised across the industry and by most employers. The new diploma also has no gap-fill requirements. The CII offers courses and online revision tools. The CII’s diploma also has the advantage of leading more naturally on to the level 6 advanced diploma qualification for those advisers who want to continue their studies after level 4.

The IFS diploma is a similar set-up but takes less time than the CII route. The IFS diploma has been specifically designed to meet RDR requirements and should require minimal gap-fill. It has traditionally been seen as more appropriate for general practitioners who do not need detailed specialist knowledge. If specialist knowledge is required for more complex clients, the CII qualification may be more appropriate. The IFS exam is generally considered more practical in nature.

CISI investment advice diploma and IMC level 4 plus CFA level 1 are less frequently used. They tend to be considered more appropriate for investment specialists but are well-recognised in that area. The CFA in particular is recognised and respected internationally, so advisers should consider their career goals when making their choice.

The latest provider to enter the marketplace is Calibrand. The online qualification group has been gaining a good deal of industry recognition for its IFP-recognised level 4 qualification. The diploma in professional financial advice has been designed as a “purpose-built, fully RDR-compliant” solution. The IFP says it suitable for advisers look to for a quick way to gap fill and is “the most straightforward option”.

Gap-fill is an increasingly pressing consideration for advisers choosing an exam provider. The last thing many advisers want is to take a series of exams and then find that they have to undertake significant CPD or even further exams to fill in the gaps.

However, the gap-fill situation is still sufficiently unclear to make it difficult to choose a provider simply based on these requirements. Equally, time is running out for many advisers to achieve level 4 status, so they cannot afford to wait for clarity from the accrediting bodies on gap fill. At the moment, all that can be said is that some exams are emerging as apparently requiring less gap-fill than others, often because they are newer and have been designed with the RDR in mind. In all cases, advisers need to ensure that their exam provider has sufficiently robust systems in place to let them know what they need to do on gap fill.

There is an increasing amount of support available for level 4 exams. A number of the networks have issued guidance to help advisers choose the most appropriate exams.

Online forums have emerged discussing the various routes to level 4. Equally, advisers should be able to source help from within their own advisory practices via a line-manager or principal.

Daunting but invigorating to be sitting exams again

Joel Adams
Joel Adams

I joined the industry as an 18-year-old and as I came straight from college, I was already tuned into doing exams.

There was no mandatory qualification at the time. I did FPC pretty quickly and have always had a drive to be as well-qualified as possible.

However, after AFPC, there was not anywhere else to go and my progress stalled for a while.

I started again in 2005 with the pensions’ simplification exam. I found it all a bit daunting to be sitting exams again but it was invigorating.

In 2007, when chartered status was introduced, I started doing this and I found it really interesting to test and demonstrate my ability.

I also went on and did the PFS Fellowship qualification and then the certified financial planner qualification.

I find that clients are reassured by this level of qualification. I can switch clients on more quickly to my recommendations than if I did not have them. Clients do understand the importance of qualifications.

I found taking the exams relatively easy it is the work that I do and I should know most of these things anyway.

It is a good benchmark to test whether I know what I am talking about. I found the AF5 financial planning exam the hardest it is not easy to get the style right.

We have 11 advisers in our firm and they are all exceptionally well qualified. Six are fellows of the PFS. We believe it should be a central part of the career and presentations to clients.

Affiliation lies with academic CII exams

All the exams I have taken have been with the CII. I chose the CII as an exam provider on the basis that I am a member of the PFS and that is where the affiliation lies.

It is also a well-recognised body. I know a lot of advisers have gone down the IFS route because they have felt it is more in line with their day-to-day work and certainly the CII exams are more academic but to me it seemed to be the chosen body for a lot of the big employers in the sector.

As a result, when it came to deciding between certified and chartered, I went down the chartered route.

It was building on the exams that I had already got and therefore made more sense than starting with a completely different body.

Chartered requires 290 credits with a certain number at advanced level. You also need to subscribe to a code of ethics and have five years’ worth of industry experience. I think the qualification is rigorous and has a lot of appeal because of that. Also, the name ’chartered’ chimes with other professional services such as law and accountancy.

The key exam that advisers have to do is the advanced diploma in financial planning.

This is a three-hour case study. Candidates are sent a factfind two weeks before and have to put together recommendations building on their knowledge.

As such, it is quite practical and I think it’s a great exam to take. I find that people both within the industry and clients recognise and respect chartered status.”

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