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Tony Byrne: Higher qualification requirements are inevitable


While I am a well-known critic of the UK financial services regulatory regime, there are some aspects of it which I like.

The RDR was not welcomed by many IFAs, mainly because of the need to attain the minimum qualification standard of QCA Level 4. 

Most people do not like change and none of us welcome being forced to obtain further qualifications or gap-fill merely to remain in business or to retain authorisation to advise in certain specialist areas.

It is very frustrating, especially when other professionals such as solicitors and accountants do not have to put up with this. CPD usually suffices in other professions.

But research shows that one of the things clients value most, and are willing to pay a fee for, is an adviser’s expertise. 

Trust is highly valued too. What better way to prove you have these skills and attributes than to become well qualified and a member of one or more professional bodies which support those qualifications?

Depending on your specialisms, options for professional qualifications include: chartered financial planner, certified financial planner, associate of the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners, associate of the Chartered Institute for Securities and Investment, Cert PFS (Securities) or chartered wealth manager.

Interestingly, once you obtain a higher-level qualification such as chartered or certified financial planner, you often qualify for a number of examination or qualification exemptions.

I particularly like the chartered qualifications, if only because the public understand the word “chartered”. 

It is a trusted brand. They can associate it with other chartered qualifications such as chartered accountant, chartered surveyor or chartered marketer. So it puts you on the same level as these other professionals in the eyes of clients.

And it is not just about the expertise and knowledge you acquire from these professional qualifications. You are also subject to very high professional ethics and integrity standards. 

Again, I believe the public like this.

Interestingly, the CISI has a test on integrity which every one of its members has to pass at A grade before they can use their professional qualification after their name. Over 7,000 members of the CISI have already passed the test. 

I think this is a good idea and one which other professional bodies should follow.

A further benefit of professional qualifications is that fellow professionals such as chartered accountants relate to you better and treat you as an equal. This has to be a good thing and is likely to lead to more referrals.

I think the minimum qualification level is inevitably going to rise to Level 6 anyway. So the sooner you attain chartered or certified status the better as you will be future-proofing yourself.

The same argument applies to the Step qualifications. It seems highly likely that at some stage in the future you will be obliged to be professionally qualified to draft wills. 

The Law Society has been pressing for this for some time.

Finally, there is the sheer feeling of pride and achievement in becoming better qualified. It is good for the ego, which is pretty important these days given the constant criticism and scrutiny we get in financial services.

Tony Byrne is financial planning director at Wealth and Tax Management



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There are 7 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. I was quite happy to see new qualifications for IFAs, but not for those like me who were over 65 and had over 25 years experience. All the RDR did was to force out those IFAs who were too old to contemplate taking exams. Grandfathering should have been allowed. This would have prevented IFAs again like me losing their livelihood and have been forced to retire before planned age, I wanted to continue working until at least age 75, but now find I amm sitting around doing nothing when I could still be advising my clients. FSA probably realised their mistake, but all they could think of doing was re-name to FCA at enormous cost.

  2. I think a gradual and planned move to Level 6 is no bad thing. But, perhaps older advisers should be exempt- what price experience? Surely, there is a way to assess the level of competence of firms and allow certain exemptions for those that meet a certain standard.

    Also, not all advice requires high level qualifications and perhaps certain types of advice could fall within the Level 4 remit- allowing the competent experienced advisers to continue to provide a valuable serivce while, at the same time, allow a career path for those that want to reach Level 6.

    It would be interesting to tot up the cost, for a new entrant, of all the course manual and exam fees to get to 290 CII credits. That is assuming no other training or study material is factored in and that the candidates pass at the first attempt for each paper.

  3. A Degree is a Level 6 course which allows you to progress on to postgraduate courses such as a Masters (MBA, MSc etc.)

    As a network member where WOM really means ‘whole of what they allow you to advise on market’ a level 6 qualification would be overkill. Most degree courses at level 6 take 3 to 4 years to obtain and that’s after students have obtained ‘A’ levels first. Which other profession has the nonsense we have to put up with, lifetime liability, an ever increasing circle of compliance responsibility and no real control over costs?
    I’m hearing about at least half a dozen IFA’s who are getting out at the end of this year. Bodes well for the future.

    Seriously, do you really see someone faced with having to obtain a level 6 qualification to trade as a self employed IFA wanting to go down this route? I would also ask; now that I have a level 4 qualification in financial services when do I ever use any other so called new knowledge I now have? I think 32 years in this industry prepared me far better than any multi choice questions ever did.

    It’s usually someone who already has a level 6 qualification who thinks this would be a good idea. Funny that. And, the average man in the street has no idea or couldn’t care less what Chartered Financial Planner means.

  4. I’m level 6 and I think the idea stinks, mainly for the reasons outlined above; it is not necessary and such uplift must remain a voluntary exercise. Level 4 is adequate fro the overwhelming majority of advisers and I do not agree that a rise to level 6 as a minimum is likely at any time in the foreseeable future.
    There seem to be an awful lot of prophets of doom in our industry. If they are not forecasting that the regulators are about to tear us from limb to limb for not having the correct amount of paperclips in the office then they are saying anyone who isn’t a brain surgeon will soon be thrown out of the industry. How about giving it a rest for a while?

  5. A business can choose to use a bookeeper or a Chartered Accountant. They don’t always need a chartered accountant. A consumer can choose to complete their own tax return or engage someone else to help.
    As to Level 6 versus level 4. The STEP for FAs is a level 4 add on, LTC is level 3 as is LTM, the Islamic Finance Qual through CISI is level 3 and the CII WRAP paper and others which can be sat are often level 4’s. Is the level i.e. the “how high” important thing to the consumer or the breadth of knowledge the “how wide”.
    I am doing more level 4 exams to widen my knowledge rather than going deeper, if that results in me having the same points as someone who has a level 6, but broader, shoudl I be stopped from trading if the minimum level increases to level 6? I think not.
    CPD and study should be about relevance, not quodos…..

  6. Christopher Petrie 18th October 2013 at 4:42 pm

    Re : above comments,

    * Nursing is a level 6 profession. Seems reasonable for an IFA to be as competent in their field as a nurse is in hers.

    * “Grandfathering” would almost certainly be illegal under age-discrimination laws. I’m 46 with 26 years in financial services. Would I need level 6 but a 50 year old with 20 years experience be exempt?
    “I’ll call my lawyer!”

  7. Christopher Petrie | 18 October 2013 4:42 pm

    It never ceases to amaze me how many people (such as yourself) try to compare apples with pears.
    The last time I looked nothing I could possibly do would result in the death of a client.

    If level 6 is really the way we need to go then there needs to be a major rethink on how this is developed.
    Taking a 60 year old person who has practised in an industry for over 30 years and saying to them get on with it doesn’t seem very fair to me.

    Incidentally; Funding for nursing degree courses

    Students may be able to get funding support for their nursing programmes from the NHS. This could include full payment of tuition fees. NHS student bursaries may also be available to help with living expenses and you may be eligible for an NHS bursary even if you have already had public funding for higher education.

    Can you see the FCA doing something similar? Thought not.

    I think you’ll also find the requirement to hold a nursing degree applies to new entrants.

    What about registered nurses who do not have academic qualifications?

    The NMC has no intention of requiring nurses already on the register to gain a degree as it recognises they have valuable clinical experience.
    This judgement also applies to Return to Practice nurses and qualified nurses from the EU and overseas who wish to register with the NMC.

    And finally you do need to talk to a lawyer and when you do ask if age would ever be a factor in grandfathering. Get back to us with your answer.

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