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RDR roundabout

The RDR merry-go-round keeps turning. Off come basic advice and the sole options of sales or independent advice, and on jump “sales advice” and “guided sales”.

What is left on the merry-go-round? Independent financial advice, sales advice, advised guided sales, non-advised guided sales, other non-advised sales and execution-only.

Oh, and we must not forget that the “broad characteristics” of money guidance are to be included in advice and sales services. Is this a widening of the definition of financial advice or what advisers do already?

Will this plethora of services deliver the much sought after clarity for consumers or will they be as dizzy as those on the merry-go-round? I think we all know the answer.

Fortunately, at this stage, few consumers will be engaged with the detail of the review but the end game must be to move away from regulatory descriptors and return to one of the key objectives of the RDR – simplicity and clarity of proposition.

I am pleased the FSA stressed that “sales advice” in particular is just a working title.

But, moving away from titles, the essence of what the FSA is proposing should be welcomed. Financial advice is acknowledged as a valued service, with professional standards applying to all who deliver it.

IFAs effectively have repolarisation, as the FSA appears to be committed to keeping a distinction between independent advisers and those offering non-independent services, yet retaining a level playing field in professional standards and conduct of business.

The model for professional advice is clear – higher entry- level qualifications, remuneration that is transparent and free of provider influence and a more robust approach to continuing professional development and ethical behaviour.

Few people I have spoken with have serious objections to these standards applying to new advisers.

Some, including the FSA, suggest the bar should be even higher, but the current hot debate is about existing advisers. There is much heat and emotion from the resisters and some very convincing arguments about the value of experience and CPD.

The FSA has made two clear statements – no grandfathering and they have not ruled out some kind of assessment.

I have a great deal of sympathy for those facing the challenge of more exams but my concern for those that wait to see what might be acceptable is the timescale.

It could be another year or more before we know what may or may not be an alternative to exams and the clock is ticking.

My advice would be to join the many that are already on their way to diploma. A total of 6,700 people sat higher Chartered Insurance Institute qualifications in October and this is set to increase in 2009.

There is tremendous support from providers and firms as well as the wide range of help and assistance from the PFS and the CII.

Take advantage of the help and work with others, you may be surprised that exams are not as daunting as you think.

Fay Goddard is chief executive of the PFS

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