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To boldly go

TThe announcement that the Financial Services Skills Council might not have its licence renewed provides additional concerns to an already confused marketplace.

Irrespective of the outcome of this issue, strong leadership and bold decisions are required. The IFP is committed to defining and growing the financial planning profession. A key part of our role is to establish and uphold standards of excellence for financial planning. This involves education, assessment, training, experience ethics and professional development for financial planners and financial planning firms, helping them to develop a robust business model that better serves UK consumers.

As we continue to seek better solutions through our work with the retail distribution review and other initiatives, it is easy to cave into the argument that there are more important things to think about at the moment. This, however, would be the wrong thing to do at a time when the value of good advice and consumer need is at its highest.

If and when positive market conditions return, focus once again will move away from the need to improve standards and extending the reach of financial advice. The nettle must be grasped firmly now so that we are not stung further down the track.

It is imperative that the new consistent standards are established, communicated and embraced by all as a result of this review so that a confused consumer can better track their way through the maze of different terms and offerings.

If there are 85,000 individuals affected by the RDR, there are probably near to 85,000 different ways of doing things at the moment and this is unacceptable.

Evidence from the current debacle about MPs’ expenses proves the importance of having a strong ethical code and the teeth to do something about individuals that have proved to be morally corrupt.

The fact that it is within the letter of the law and within the rules does not excuse corrupt behaviour. Individuals need to be disciplined to ensure that consumers can build their trust in the system. This needs to occur in our world too.

Consistency around the job role and the standards that practitioners need to reach as a minimum is the next key area that is discussed. It does not matter where the individual gets their qualification as long as it is clearly at the same level as the next person. Experience levels and continuing professional development similarly need to be consistent and have minimum standards and expectations.

This can be achieved in a number of ways but the most sensible suggestions are already on the table. The rapid establishment of an independent standards board could, by working with the other professional bodies and other relevant parties, easily achieve the outcomes that would meet the objectives of the RDR.

It would provide a great solution, irrespective of the outcome with the Skills Council. The next bold decision will be to deal with those who are not members of prof-essional bodies.

Nick Cann is chief executive of the Institute of Finan- cial Planning

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