The first stage of my journey from writing about financial advice to doing the job for real is now complete.
The R06 paper – which I sat last week – is all that stands between me and the Diploma in Regulated Financial Planning. Like hundreds of other candidates from this month’s CII exam sessions, I’m now in results limbo. We’re waiting until mid-May to hear our fate.
So it seems an appropriate time to reflect on the journey so far since leaving my desk at the Mail on Sunday in February.
The last couple of months of intense study have been surprisingly rewarding. The exams have helped me order the knowledge I’ve acquired through 20 years of writing about money. I’ve filled in a few gaps – such as the finer points of taxation of life bonds – and learnt a couple of completely new facts: my favourite being that Prince Charles might end up with your money if you die without a Will in Cornwall.
But overall, I found the challenge in tackling a level 4 qualification in a couple of months has been the breadth of material to cover rather than the rigour of the questions set.
Out of interest (and hope) I also took a swing at the AF4 paper on investment planning last week – a completely different kettle of fish. The advanced level qualification is a big step up in terms of the intellectual challenge. Sitting that one paper has reinforced my respect for the nation’s Chartered Financial Planners. They have definitely earned the title.
But looking at the wider picture, my sense is that a more significant impact of RDR may not be the drive to level 4 qualifications but the beefed-up requirements around continuous professional development.
Sitting the exams last week I was struck by how rapidly things move on. Dramatic evolution in State pensions and long term care funding, for example, had to be ‘forgotten about’ for the purpose of testing.
This is not a criticism of the exam process: it would be impractical to update the syllabus more than once a year. But the volume of changes in only a few months underlines the importance and value of advisers staying current.
With hindsight, I can see that working as a financial journalist is akin to doing full-time CPD. Part of my job involved digesting every White Paper or Royal Commission report and interpreting what these changes meant for readers.
I’d argue that spending at least 35 hours a year staying up to date should be viewed by advisers not as a chore but as a privilege. Yes these are not direct ‘fee-earning’ hours. But without putting the effort in to stay on top of rapidly evolving markets and rules, I don’t see how anyone has the right to demand a fee in the first place.
As for the next stage of my journey, there is still a huge amount to learn. I don’t feel remotely ready to sit down in front of a client right now. Turning financial theory into practical advice will demand a mastery of administration systems, wraps and platforms that are still a mystery to this novice. So, with the help of some of the advisers I have come to trust and respect, it is time to continue with my professional development.
Stephen Womack is a former financial reporter at the Mail on Sunday who is now retraining as a financial adviser