After four years or so of stalemate, the FSA's examination review is starting to get somewhere.
One of the issues which concerned the LIA very much was the need to ensure that the proposed new exams enable individuals to have a professional qualification which is portable between one firm and another. A further concern was that the exams should be seen as relevant to consumer protection.
When comments were made by the FSA which seemed to suggest that primary responsibility for appropriate exams was to rest with authorised firms, it was hard to see how the system could be developed to the point where professional standing and consumer acceptance could be underwritten. We now have a clear statement from the skills council that its remit embraces consumer protection as well as adding value to firms and enhancing individual career prospects. It says “national recognition will enhance consumer confidence in the individuals who have passed exams and the firms which employ them” and “a nationally recognised exam will enhance the career progression of individuals”.
Employers which wish to create their own exam facilities will now, as a quality assurance measure, need to have those exams externally verified and moderated by an awarding body to ensure they meet the same standards as appropriate exams. The skills council also strongly advocates that firms should use the external qualifications that are listed as appropriate exams. Whichever route firms choose to go down, the same standards will apply and the in-house exams will be publicly recognised as equivalent.
We believe qualifications are an important aspect of an adviser's attributes which consumers need to take into account in judging whether they are dealing with an adviser who is likely to be able to do a good job for them. This requires crystal clarity in the signalling of qualifications. The list of appropriate exams maintained by the skills council, together with information about the exams offered by the awarding bodies, supplemented by details of any in-house schemes, should enable independent verification of information which is passed out by individual advisers to their clients.
Another bone of contention was the advice skills module. As we made clear to the skills council, we need a national generic qualification in this area which not only tests application skills in the subject modules but provides an over-arching assessment. We would ideally like to see an application skills module listed as an appropriate exam. But the skills council statement does recognise the importance of both a national test and work-based assessment.
Essentially, it is down to awarding bodies to provide this national application skills test and it is good to see that the CII is proposing to include such a paper within its certificate range, designed to replace the FPC.
The LIA looks forward to working with the skills council in the further stages of the exam review. It goes right to the heart of professionalism, which the LIA embraces as its future.
John Ellis is public affairs director at the LIA