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Quest for quality

Unity is needed to produce qualifications that are recognised industrywide

One of the key areas of debate in the retail distribution review has been professionalism and levels of qualification.

Recommendations from the professionalism and reputation group include two main objectives – better segmentation and labelling of advisory services to consumers and higher standards of behaviour and competence, including greater collaboration with trade and professional bodies.

Although there is a lot of debate to be had about the execution, none of us within the industry could disagree with these objectives. Most big distribution groups and professional bodies have been working in their own way to achieve these object-ives for years. My group has always supported quality within the sector and spends a lot of time and energy on developing programmes that support continuing professional development.

The adviser population is effectively still contracting, with a severe shortage of quality advisers available to firms who want to recruit to expand their businesses. Currently, there is no effective route for attracting and developing new blood in any volume.

At Tenet, we have developed an adviser academy, with development programmes for both existing and new advisers and are working with other organisations to provide a more cost efficient and effective graduate and apprenticeship programme to tackle this long-standing challenge.

The banks will undoubtedly help to provide some of our future IFAs but the real answer lies within the inter-mediary sector to do more.

The current improvements being proposed by the financial services skills council are also highly encouraging. Their vision of regional skills academies for financial services, helping to increase the quality and quantity of recruits into the industry and providing a consistent level of highquality training promises to deliver tangible benefits for the industry. We are highly supportive of their vision and are in the process of becoming an accredited trainer for the Yorkshire and Humber Academy, aligning programmes offered through our current adviser academ-ies for inexperienced recruits.

The key to delivering better qualified advisers will, however, undoubtedly rest upon the ability of the market to co-operate and work together. The news that the CII and IFP are planning to join forces over qualifications is positive stuff.

To demonstrate how this could work, Bob Bullivant, the deputy director general of the CII, reportedly used the analogy of GCSEs and A levels, where there are numerous providers but the end qualification is standardised and recognised as such.

The RDR has certainly stimulated debate and this is an essential step. The difficult part will be reaching a consensus that satisfies the very varied drivers and interests within the industry.

If we can achieve the aim stated in the discussion paper of an industry that can be clearly presented to consumers so they can understand the levels of service available and what they mean in practical terms then the ability to bring in new blood will surely follow. How much easier it will be for graduates to identify a defined career path with associated qualifications and for being an IFA to become a professional career of choice.

It is not impossible. The legal profession is very successfully segmented and labelled and most consumers recognise that a solicitor and a barrister fulfil very different roles and are priced accordingly.

Simon Hudson is group chief executive of Tenet

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