Confused about which qualifications to take in the run-up to RDR? Maria Merricks assesses the exam options available to IFAs working to reach QCF Level 4.
The topic of qualifications has divided industry opinion, to say the least. But whichever way you look at it, there are only two years left until the RDR deadline hits, and time is running out for those not yet QCF Level 4 qualified.
IFP chief executive Nick Cann says advisers cannot delay getting qualified any longer: “Understand what needs to be done and choose a route that offers the most support” is his advice. But what is the best route?
With a range of options out there, Professional Adviser compares the three diplomas from the CII, ifs School of Finance and Calibrand (backed by the IFP), which are all designed to meet the standards of the regulator.
Calibrand Diploma in Professional Financial Advice
This qualification, created by Calibrand, is backed by the IFP. Similar to the CII Diploma, it is comprised of six units:
- Financial services, regulation and ethics;
- Personal taxation;
- Investment principles and risk;
- Pensions and retirement;
- Financial protection;
- Application of professional financial advice.
- Units 1 to 5 are assessed by multiple- choice papers, while Unit 6 is a case study-based, short-answer exam which is taken electronically. The recommended study time is 390 hours.
- Units from other awarding bodies can be accepted towards the diploma, but only if they cover 100% of the learning outcomes and can be combined with the Diploma units to meet 37 QCF credits or 370 guided learning hours.
- Each unit costs £141, apart from Unit 6 priced at £176. Booking and payment in advance will mean a discount on the full diploma to £750.
Nick Cann, chief executive of the IFP, says interest from advisers has been high, because many are disillusioned with some of the existing exam providers, and want to maintain flexibility as to future career direction.
“This route does not tie the candidate into a particular examiner for future career development,” he says.
- The option provides choice and competition to the existing channels, Cann says, as it is cheaper, provides free study material and availability to take examinations is pretty much immediate.
CII Diploma in Regulated Financial Planning
This diploma is made up of six units:
- RO1 Financial services, regulation and ethics;
- RO2 Investment principles and risk;
- RO3 Personal taxation;
- RO4 Pensions and retirement planning;
- RO5 Financial Protection;
- RO6 Financial planning practice.
- Units RO1 to RO5 comprise multiple-choice exam papers, while RO6 is a three-hour written exam. The recommended study time is 370 hours. Holders of existing units (CF3) Financial protection and (JO8) Financial planning practice gain exemptions from RO5 and RO6 respectively, since they already meet FSA/FSSC standards in full.
- The course is priced on a pay-as-you-learn basis, with each unit costing between £60 and £162. Members of the PFS and CII receive discounts.
Steve Aspinall, head of corporate development for financial services at the CII, says the structure of the diploma comes from matching the learning outcomes directly from the regulator to the modules: “No one can be under any doubt they are not covering what is required to be a financial planner with the CII,” he says.
- The organisation has seen almost 15,000 individual exams booked, which is “an absolutely fantastic” feat, because the first module was only launched in July, according to Aspinall.
- He says: “I think our biggest strength is our range of learning materials to help a candidate through. Some people prefer to get a book and highlighter pen; some are more modern and want MP3 downloads, online e-learning and face-to-face revision courses. No matter what your learning style is, you can find that support with the CII.”
ifs School of Finance Diploma for Financial Advisers (DipFA)
The structure of the DipFA is different from the others because it consists of just two core units:
- Financial services, regulation and ethics (FSRE);
- Advanced financial advice (AFA).
- Unit 1 comprises a two-hour multiple-choice exam, while Unit 2 is split into two assessments: a written coursework assignment, which makes up 30% of the unit mark; and a written examination based on a factfind that advisers receive six weeks before the exam. This makes up 70% of the unit mark. The course is achievable within nine months and the recommended study time is 370 hours. The registration fee is £595, although it is £100 cheaper through an external training provider.
- Mark Roberts, development manager at ifs School of Finance, says structuring the DipFA differently was very much the intention. “What we have attempted to do is try to make the qualification a little more applied, and less reliant on all-or-nothing, cliff-faced assessments at the end of modules,” he says.
- Positive feedback from advisers focuses on the qualification not being too different from their day job in getting the opportunity to research solutions, present recommendations and justifications, Roberts adds.
- “It is very difficult for advisers to make time to study if left to their own devices. DipFA is designed to support them all the way through and gives them a very structured route over a nine-month period. This is backed up with comprehensive learning resources both online and printed, as well as access to an individual tutor throughout the duration of the course.”
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