Several training academies for advisers have been launched over the past year. What real value do these bring to IFAs and to the industry as a whole?
Roy McLoughlin, Master Adviser
There are two issues concerning training academies: their relevance to existing advisers and the question of how they can attract new ones. The average age of IFAs is reported to be 56 and as these advisers start retiring, it is crucial that new blood is found quickly. Many existing IFAs may be starting to worry about who they could develop a practice buyout with, though a more common problem is the ever-expanding protection gap due to a lack of advisers. There are plenty of staff working in the financial services so everything must be done to encourage the step-up to ensure advice-giving is readily available. Insurance companies should be integral as it is in their interest to increase the number of advisers.
For existing advisers, the academies are great in principle. Firstly, in helping IFAs pass exams and, secondly, in providing education on new products. Academies are a great way of building on CPD requirements and present the added benefit of learning in a group environment. They are also a great way of ensuring that confusing legislation such as the Age Discrimination Act is interpreted correctly. In protection, which looks increasingly to be a market of innovation, insurers need to hold our hands and academies are an obvious outlet.
Steve Gay, Norwich Union
Professionalism in the provision of financial advice is paramount and all financial advisers should recognise certain standards, be held accountable through a recognised body and provide advice of a high quality, based upon the right knowledge and skills.
Professionalism is the sum of many parts but a higher minimum qualification level to practise is fundamental to the improvement of standards and will help to attract high calibre new entrants into the market. This, in turn, will result in improved customer outcomes, as well as improve the public perception of professionalism in financial advice.
The Norwich Union financial adviser academy has been developed in association with the Chartered Insurance Institute (CII) to make it easier for financial advisers to attain the CII diploma in financial planning.
It offers a package of support that will give advisers increased chances of exam success, with services including: tools and guidance to help advisers get the most out of their study time; materials helping advisers apply their technical knowledge and understand the business context and; support from Norwich Union's CII-approved team of specialist trainers and consultants.
Advisory firms should consider support from academies as complementary to their own in-house training and development programmes, allowing them to focus on creating value from within their business.
Fay Goddard, The Association of IFAs (Aifa)
The Financial Services Authority's discussion paper - a review of retail distribution - generated a mixed reaction when it was published last June. In particular, the call for higher qualifications for advisers created a clear division between supporters and opposition.
An Aifa survey showed advisers split 50/50, yet almost one year on the mood has changed. There is an air of inevitability that diploma level qualifications will become the standard and advisers are dusting off the study books and logging onto training websites. Providers are also keen to support their distributors and are developing initiatives.
A number of other training packages emerging from Standard Life, Scottish Widows and Aegon show the importance that providers attach to maintaining a robust and dynamic IFA sector. It also shows they are committed to raising the bar - or it could be that they want to get the ball rolling before any changes are implemented. Either way, the big question is: how many advisers will take up the offers unless or until the regulator makes them? Norwich Union has seen a significant amount of interest in the academy, which is good news. Last year's split appears to be moving but many advisers still need to be convinced of the benefits of gaining higher qualifications.
Roger Edwards, Bright Grey
With the retail distribution review on the horizon and the accompanying requirements for adviser qualifications, there is a heavy focus on developing skills and knowledge in the industry at the moment. Providers have always offered training for advisers. The promise of continuing professional development has been enough to attract a healthy turnout in seminars that are often little more than product promotion vehicles.
But now there is an emerging trend for quality training that aims to help advisers expand their knowledge beyond pure financial advice into areas such as marketing their own businesses, customer acquisition and other marketing skills. Another important area is helping to ease the adviser's path to higher qualifications by offering study aids and support to ensure exam success.
Providers, networks and other organisations are developing adviser training academies offering courses either on the internet or in a workshop environment. Ultimately, this has to be good news for consumers who will have access to better qualified advisers.
The key is to look beyond the temptation to focus on what the provider is currently promoting in the market and deliver training that is totally relevant to the actual training needs of the advisers. That means researching the requirements of advisers in advance of putting together the training material.
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