The Personal Finance Society is planning to consult with members of the broader training community to ascertain the best way forward with training and exam delivery.
As the Chartered Insurance Institute reversed its position on forcing the combined purchase of its exam and revision packages last week following industry criticism, PFS chief executive Keith Richards says the CII failed to appreciate the nuances of the various sectors its qualifications refer to.
On 2 January, the CII chose to introduce a new “all-inclusive” unit of exam, study guide and online study tool, RevisionMate, effectively stripping advisers of choice over how they wish to learn and the resources they use for doing so.
The move was widely criticised by advisers and alternative providers of learning and revision materials, with Bespoke Training Solutions founder and chartered financial planner
Luiza Todd accusing the CII of anti-competitive behaviour.
She says: “The time you realised was when you went to try and book a CII exam and it wouldn’t let you do so unless you paid for their entire package.”
But the CII has since recognised its move may have been premature and will now reinstate the opportunity for exams and learning materials to be purchased separately, while it consults with the broader market and key stakeholders.
The U-turn will affect all financial adviser units that were affected by the changes earlier this month.
CII learning and assessment director Simon Graham says: “We have set aside the coming months for broader consultations. Meanwhile, the option to purchase the respective exam/assessments alongside the new enhanced combined packages will be reinstated by the end of February, in plenty of time to enter for the April exam session.”
Richards says bundling payments for exam and learning materials is common practice by educators in many professional sectors.
But he adds that while it might suit the majority of candidates, and discounts can be offered with combined packages, there will still be those who prefer using third party materials.
He says: “What was missed here was the percentage that use [independent] training companies and will design their own learning material. The CII just had not really recognised that impact and realises that it should have.
“What is clearly coming out is that people’s different learning styles are really important; using the CII materials may be a logical route for many but there are others whose learning style is different. What the training providers can help some people achieve is an increased chance of passing.
“We have to recognise that, so we will look at engaging many of the training organisations and engaging more closely with us on what ultimately is everyone’s joint objective of helping the market continue to raise professional standards.”
According to the CII’s 2016 report and accounts, qualifications were
responsible for £12.7m of operating income, up from £11.8m in 2015.
Elsewhere the level of income from educational activity – comprising publications and training courses, among other materials – was in decline, accounting for £11.9m in 2015 and £11.4m in 2016.
In its online blog, Brand Financial Training says the CII’s move was a “deviation from its charter”, saying it undermines its position as advocate to the adviser community.
“We could all just shrug our shoulders, or we can stand up collectively and voice our views on the changes made by our professional body. Whether you are an individual exam candidate, a learning provider, an advisory firm or another business in financial services, this affects all of us […] Brand Financial Training firmly supports CII exam candidates having freedom of choice.”
Chase de Vere chartered financial planner Patrick Connolly says he was disappointed that communication of the issue was not clearer, especially with his firm representing 200-plus advisers sitting multiple exams with the CII.
CanScot partner Robert Reid adds: “The CII book is the one that is based around the syllabus. The problem is, if you buy an independent textbook and it doesn’t cover the right syllabus, who are you going to shout at?
“While the CII books are all checked and vetted, who is responsible for the gap analysis?” he notes. “It falls to the individual using them to make sure they are up to scratch, but if they fail their exam, they cannot blame the book.
“I think they are designed to be used as supplementary materials anyway, possibly written in a different style to make them easier to read, but my concern is over who is accrediting the materials.”