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Only here for the beer

Cambridge University folklore tells of a student who, trawling through ancient legislation, found he could sit his exam while supping a beer. When he turned up to the exam and produced the proof, the astonished adjudicator brought him a pint. The next day, he was summoned to the don’s office and fined for sitting an exam without wearing his sword.

The moral is that you cannot be selective over which rights and responsibilities you choose to exercise. This brings me back to the subject of the retail distribution review and exams.

I am not going to enter the chartered versus certified debate due to lack of space. I will concentrate on the chartered position, as that is where I have finally got to.

On the one hand, the Chartered Insurance Institute rightly wants us to achieve the pinnacle of professionalism by achieving chartered status or at least to see standards raised. On the other hand, the majority of my work, which is pension and divorce-based, is not covered in detail by any CII syllabus, nor does it recognise or offer any credit for the Resolution (Family Law Society) exam which we had to pass to become accredited IFAs.

The Resolution exam was one of the hardest exams I have ever sat and is probably a lot more technical than G60 ever was. I have been informed that the CII does not acknowledge it, as it is an open book paper. Not that this makes it any easier – on the contrary.

I feel strongly that the CII is fining me for not wearing my sword and I did not even get a beer. My suspicion is that a new CII exam on this specialist subject will be created and we will all have to pass that instead.

So I have sat 14 varied exams to get to where I am, at great expense in terms of cost, revision hours and to my business and personal life. Am I more knowledgeable as a result? Definitely. Is it all relevant? No. Have the syllabi overlapped? Yes, but that is because of the changes in qualification paths over the last three years.

Does it make me a better adviser? My clients and professional connections will judge me on that. Am I proud to be chartered? Absolutely chuffed to bits. However, it is partly derived from the sense of relief that I do not have to grind myself through the exam mill any longer.

Another qualification issue that has been raised by the RDR is that of advice versus guided sales. I am a fee-based IFA and my husband is a salaried, tied corporate manager for a niche insurance company. We are both chartered but with different skillsets. He knows far more about business planning than I could dream of and often gives very complex advice. Yes, advice.

According to my interpretation of the RDR, he will become a guided salesperson, yet he fulfils every other criteria of the advice description, including qualification requirements, with the exception of independence. Is he any less honest, fair or professional than me? I would hope not. Should he be discriminated against because he loves his job and chooses to work for one company? Should he be placed in the same category as a phone-based salesperson who guides a customer through a stakeholder decision tree? Certainly not, and this is an area that needs further discussion. His company offers very good products across the board that are not available to IFAs anyway, so are we really and truly whole of market?

I accept that standards in some quarters need to be raised and there are still shortfalls within the exam system and the RDR proposals. We cannot expect to be viewed as a profession if we do not improve our game and it is great that improvements are being made and that advisers of all backgrounds want to excel.

I much prefer independence but we should not relegate the expertise and qualifications of certain advisers because they do not fit in an RDR box. Now, I am off for that beer.

Fiona Sharp is a senior adviser at Finance4Women

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