The choice between Chartered and Certified status is down to an adviser’s specific needs, says Neil Martin. But either will bring significant benefits
Education, education, education. Tony Blair’s old mantra might have gathered a bit of dust over the years, along with his slightly battered reputation, but it’s one legacy of his premiership that’s still being heard loud and clear throughout the financial sector.
One of the key pillars of RDR, of course, was to improve professional standards within the industry – meaning, among other things, that advisors are encouraged to not only reach a certain level of expertise that is recognised by a professional body, but also to continue their own personal career development.
For many advisors, that means beefing up their planning credentials. Essentially, advisers wanting to offer a better service have a choice between achieving Chartered or Certified status. Chartered Financial Planner Status is conferred solely by the Chartered Institute of Insurance (CII), whereas Certified status is governed by the Institute of Financial Planning.
Steve Jenkins, Director (Financial Services and Insurance Markets) of the CII, is clear about the need. “I think the role of financial advisors will become more and more important in the future as people take greater responsibility for their own financial affairs,” he told us. “And in that context, people need to be confident that they are dealing with someone who knows what they are talking about, and who acts at all times in the customer’s interests”
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“What we found subsequent to the RDR, and what we’re encouraging as many people as possible to do, is to really to go above and beyond the regulatory requirements, in terms of their own professional development and developing their own expertise. And it’s in that context that we’ve seen a big upswing in the momentum in financial advisers, both IFAs and non IFAs, moving onto chartered status.”
There are around 4,400 Chartered financial planners in the UK, although not all are financial advisers. It’s currently reckoned that 15% have now reached Chartered standard, and that this proportion is set to increase over the years.
The Chartered status includes three key components:
- The qualification itself – an advanced diploma in financial planning, equivalent to degree standard;
- A strict code of ethics, which is underpinned by disciplinary processes;
- A formal programme of continuing professional development, which will be tailored to the individual advisor’s needs.
As Jenkins says, these crucial components reflect the standards set by the more mature professions, such as law, accountancy and medicine. The point, he stresses, is that individual advisors want to be seen by customers and by their own staff as working in a peer group that’s equivalent to these professions.
But then again, advisers will find that Chartered status can help to further their own personal career development, and it can also attract referrals from the established professions. Firms and the big institutions appear to value the Chartered status, he says, because it helps develop career paths for their staff and helps them hold onto talent.
Jenkins agrees that clients and potential clients increasingly expect their IFAs to have reached a certain professional standard. “If you look at the Saturday and Sunday papers, especially the finance sections, you’ll notice that where the quoted experts are describing themselves, it will now be Joe Bloggs, xyz, Chartered financial planner.”
Sue Whitbread, Communications Director at the Institute of Financial Planning (IFP), agrees with Jenkins’ comments – adding that, by investing the time to gain advanced professional qualifications, advisers and planners can not only to maintain and build their own competence, but also demonstrate to clients and potential clients their commitment to the highest professional standards. She also believes that it can have sound business benefits.
“Certified Financial Planner certification is different to many professional qualifications,” she explains, “in that it primarily tests candidates’ application – their Financial Planning skills – and not just their knowledge.”
“To succeed, advisers and planners need to have very strong technical knowledge. But, most importantly, they have to be able to demonstrate that they can apply it appropriately within a complex financial planning situation – the kind of situation that they can typically come across in practice.”
Whitbread says that she regularly gets CFP (TM) professionals coming back to the IFP with the discovery that learning the six step financial planning process to become a CFP professional has turned out to be a “light bulb” moment that has changed the way they’ve worked ever since.
Much of this, she says, is down to the process that candidates have to go through – a process which helps them to discover a practical approach to enhancing their client proposition which will put their clients’ goals right at the heart of the process.
It means, she says, that clients see value in the process right from the outset. The IFP believes that they buy into the reassurance, and that they are prepared to pay ongoing adviser fees to ensure that they keep on track to achieve what they want in life – their goals.
The IFP believes that in the post RDR environment, this clarity and purpose makes a lot of business sense because of the way it helps the planner to build long term client relationships based on trust.
And the Future?
Both our guests agreed that the future for advanced education within the advisor environment is excellent, and that the current trend toward a recognised status will continue to increase. “Not only that, but there are more and more firms who are introducing programmes,” says Jenkins.
“Indeed, some of the larger firms are implementing their own professional development programmes specifically to encourage momentum towards chartered status: firms like St James’s Place, Towry and Ashcourt Rowan, as well as some of the banks. It’s in their interest to kind of create a space which people are attracted to, because what that will do is create an environment where people can study with their peers, and they can do that in a supportive way.”
Up to a point, an advisor’s decision to go for Chartered or Certified status depends on a number of factors – some professional and some personal. But overall, it can only be to the industry’s advantage and betterment that such training and career development opportunities now exist within the industry.