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Exams on their own do not guarantee competence

Much of my 46 years in this business has been spent in representation and regulation, especially in introducing standards for financial advisers. In the early 1980s, before regulation, several of us advocated licensing linked to competence testing and spoke at countless meetings with companies and associations.

When the minister at the time turned down the concept, I became a member of a committee including industry leaders such as Sid Lipworth, Richard Baker, Peter Glover, Keith Carby, Frank Attrill and Chris Leach, who kept the issue alive. When I was appointed to the SIB board, this subject was a priority in my book.

After SIB commissioned Oonagh McDonald’s report on training and competence, I was asked to chair its panel with responsibility for delivering compulsory minimum standards of training and competence across all the self-regulatory and professional bodies. Having done so, I welcome the way so many advisers moved on voluntarily to higher levels of personal development.

One financial adviser recently wrote saying he had read my articles for many years and would like to meet.

This man runs a specialist IFA. A while ago, he sought a mentor and engaged a non-executive director who had no experience of financial services but had built a successful consumer-led company. He found that being asked “Why do you do that?”, “What clients are your ideal clients?”, “Was that worth the cost?” or “Shouldn’t you recruit someone else to do that task?” was precisely what he needed. We spent hours talking about our processes, priorities, the IT used in supp-orting the advisory process, presenting to professional connections, delegation, regulation and the future.

“Who we are?” and “What do we know?” have to be coupled with “How do we do it?” in order to be effective professional advisers.

Some of us studied for and took exams long before it was compulsory but exams do not ensure competence. Other components of a training and competence programme are on-the-job training and assessment and continuous professional education.

In improving standards, it does nobody any favours to denigrate the qualifications of others. Among the numbers frequently referred to as only having the FPC will be those who have taken additional modules relevant to their specialisms but insufficient in number to warrant different designations. There will also be those who have taken other exams over the course of long careers, as well as graduates in areas such as business studies.

All have demonstrated a commitment to education and bettering themselves.

However, I would not want my widow advised by a 23-year-old with a string of modules if he or she had not learned to use knowledge in practical situations.

Of many excellent advisers known to me, a short list from which she might choose shows four have the FPC, two others have a couple of additional modules each and three are certified financial planners. Two chartered financial planners I would otherwise include are both wonderful human beings with great technical knowledge but one retired long ago. The other is geographically too far away.

All have plenty of miles on the clock and years of CPE but not necessarily covering all technical areas of advice. Some are not general practitioners but specialists.

To be an adviser requires knowledge and skills, including an ability to conduct meetings and empathise with people.

Competence also means knowing when a colleague might be better suited to deal with certain situations.

We are intimately involved in important events in our clients’ lives. The regulator, education providers and employers are united in ensuring that greater competence enhances consumer protection and creates better careers. I hope that we produce whole people who build relationships and possess all the qualities required of advisers.

Len Warwick is chairman of Warwick Butchart Associates


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