Those avid readers of Money Mail may have noticed this week's main article which focused on the Financial Planning Certificate and the problems of competency involving some 1,000 advisers from a direct salesforce.
When they first approached me for my views on FPC, I tried to explain the rationale behind the level at which the tests were set. Unfortunately, it is impossible to justify a level which is less than most of the public would quite rightly expect of a professional adviser.
I was delighted to see that David Jackman supported the view that a higher level of testing was overdue although if retesting every three years is, as he suggested, likely, then we need to start thinking outside the box and not simply produce son of AFPC.
In the time available, the AFPC was the correct way forward but the advances in interactive technology, especially over the internet, and the demands on the time of an IFA no longer make this viable, irrespective of it being available in half or whole subjects.
Nor do I believe that it achieves its objective of developing the individual. In the review of training and competence, the FSA clearly stated that continuous professional development has to be based on the individual's needs.
This makes it very difficult if not impossible for the traditional examination to be other than “one size fits all”. This then means areas being tested where competence is not required or not enough testing in other areas.
Most people currently consider that one AFPC exam every six months is about right and this would form a major part of their CPD programme. However, if they are unfortunate enough to fail the examination, it is questionable whether all the time can then be described or logged in the development plan.
If we are to follow a more modular approach, we could allow for study over a longer period, with retesting part of the process, and the number of modules would relate to the time over which the study was undertaken. Again, the use of technology here is a no-brainer, as without it this approach would grind to a halt.
In the fullness of time, we may see university degrees as the minimum entry qualifications but, as new LIA president Michael Bousfield stated, the profession cannot currently compete against the likes of a career in law or accountancy.
As I have said many times, if we want to be seen as professional, we need to evidence our competency.
So before we find ourselves retested every three years using the current exam structure, let's try and come up with a more sensible alternative to the current system, where the soft skills as well as the ability to recall facts are given the correct balance when arriving at the mix we need in testing as we build this profession.
The public have a right to expect that those professing themselves to be professional live up to their billing.
Some of you may suggest that my criticism of FPC is unwarranted but let me ask you this – if the surgeon about to operate on you was only tested to a level similar to FPC, would you let him go ahead?
After all, financial planning may not be as important as heart surgery but, if it is done incompetently, then the results can be just as serious, from which the individual may never recover.
Perhaps we do need, as the incoming LIA president reportedly suggested, more sex appeal. However, if that requires me to acquire a permanent suntan or an identity bracelet, then I for one will have to make do with what I currently have.
Robert Reid is principal of Syndaxi Associates. To discuss any issues raised, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org