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Walls come tumbling down

Advisers say that the demolition of the former Allied Dunbar training centre in Swindon is the final nail in the coffin of the old style mass training of direct salesforces. But is its passing welcomed or mourned by the industry?

Positive Solutions executive chairman David Harrison, who was a director of Allied Dunbar when the centre opened, says the death of fasttrack training centres such as this could be creating barriers to entry for new recruits to the financial services sector.

Harrison says: “People have stopped being able to come in and just join our industry. That is a big change. Many thousands of advisers began their careers there and I think the industry does now have a problem in bringing new people in.”

He says the cost and burden of regulation is one of the main barriers to training and recruiting and it is a pity that a training centre can only stay open if a provider has a direct salesforce to train.

He says: “Until we get clarity on whether this Government does want advice, it is difficult to move forward on the training and recruitment side.”

Many high-profile people have passed through Allied Dunbar’s doors either in a learning or teaching capacity and despite criticisms levelled at some of the training methods, many advisers say they are sad to see it go.

Thinc Destini chief executive Simon Chamberlain, who was recruitment director of Allied Dunbar, says its closure is a blow to the old-style distribution networks and says it was a fantastic facility which has benefited thousands of advisers.

Park Row managing director Peter Sprung says it is a shame that Zurich has closed the centre but it highlights the way the industry is moving towards professional standards.

Sprung thinks it is symptomatic of the changing regulatory regime as the FSA continually expects more from advisers. It is also indicative of a sea change in the way advice is given today. He says the industry has moved from being largely product-driven towards focusing on suitable advice and solutions to best fit the client’s needs.

Sprung says: “It means that Zurich does not see any future in the quick training programmes designed to get people out on the road. Who is giving this basic foundation training now? Probably no one except the bancassurers.”

But Zurich says it will continue to educate IFAs about industry issues and new products through roadshows.

Since Openwork was launched as a separate company in 2005, Zurich no longer has a direct sales-force so the firm says it no longer makes commercial sense to keep the King Edward’s Place training centre open.

Openwork, formerly the Zurich Advice Network, says it invests heavily in training and development through its new recruits programme called Flying Start and via web-based learning and regional training.

Spokeswoman Ellie Waters says: “Since Openwork launched in 2005, we have been training advisers in central locations across the UK. This has proved hugely successful as we conduct more in-depth training at locations convenient to advisers, enabling them to take less time out from their business but still get the relevant training they need.”

But is there any substitute for classroom-based learning? Informed Choice managing director Nick Bamford says learning over the web and through roadshows is fine for acquiring knowledge but it is more difficult when it comes to skills training because he believes that is an activity which requires human interaction.

Bamford says: “I am not surprised it has closed. It is a function of the changing environment in which we all work. We will see less support in the form of training from product providers in the future.”

Home of Choice chief executive Richard Coulson says the centre’s closure is symptomatic of the end of the single tied salesforce. He says the centre had over 200 people a week passing through its doors in its hey day and the training course was the envy of the industry.

Coulson says: “To get rid of it is a statement that we are not investing in our salespeople.”

Sprung says providers have the capital resources to train big numbers of IFAs and there is a role for them to provide training, not just for new entrants but ongoing training for advisers throughout their careers.

Hargreaves Lansdown protection research manager Jonathan Briggs, who trained at the centre, says hundreds of thousands of people have been through Allied Dunbar’s training process.

Briggs says: “Back in the late 1980s, Allied Dunbar was considered to be one of the best training centres in the industry. It is a reflection of what is happening to the industry.”

But CBK principal Peter Chadborn says the direct salesforces of Abbey Life and Allied Dunbar were often blamed for a lot of the underhand and aggressive sales tactics that have marred the industry.

Chadborn “Those of us who were trained by the home service companies considered the likes of Allied Dunbar as the enemy. I do not think there will be that many people shedding a tear over its closure. It is called progress. I would be worried if I thought the standard of training had dropped due to the new training methods but I do not think it has.”

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