I am writing this at the end of my first day as Sofa managing director. It was a hectic day that proved to be everything I had hoped – challenging, exciting and with a warm welcome from the Sofa and CII teams.
The issue of professional status, qualifications and competence has been debated endlessly over the years and will no doubt continue to be debated for many years to come. My approach is much simpler. Over the years, working as an IFA and within life companies, I never felt comfortable when I did not know the answer to a question and I had to learn to say the most difficult of phrases – “I don't know.”
I was fortunate that when I joined the industry in 1968, the expectation was that you would complete the ACII at least and a reward structure (both monetary and in terms of career progression) was given as progress was made through the examination.
The missing element was the requirement to keep up to date. CPD did not exist and on gaining FCII, like me, most people breathed a huge sigh of relief at the prospect of no more exams. How wrong I was. I realised in the early 1990s, when I was managing director of an IFA firm, that my knowledge was out of date and “I don't know” came into the equation all too often.
The AFPC beckoned and I embarked on the papers with a number of colleagues, setting up weekly study groups. Further study is about self-development or, put another way, investment in ourselves that shows a return through better business results. This leads me to the rather vexed question as to whether we are a profession or an industry. There are many people who practice at the highest levels of professional standards. Unfortunately, in my view, despite this, we cannot call ourselves a profession as no real barrier to entry exists as it does with, say, the law.
However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Sofa is working hard to secure chartered status for the most highly qualified advisers. This will create a high standard similar to other professions and will also require those who achieve chartered status to adhere to a strict code of conduct, with the ultimate sanction being loss of chartered status. It will also give a clear career structure to those pursuing a financial career and will mean that high-quality graduates are far more likely to consider a career in finance alongside law and accountancy.
Why not have a chat with the Sofa team who can supply you with a range of literature and study options that will lead you to the highest level of qualification. You may be interested to know that during January, over 6,000 consumers logged on to the Sofa find an adviser website specifically to find a highly-qualified adviser. After all, 6,000 consumers can't be wrong.
Bob Bullivant is managing director of Sofa