The Financial Services Skills Council and its role within financial advice examinations reform has been fiercely debated over recent months, as officials and industry disagree about its part in intermediary education.
So Teresa Sayers breaks down some of the chinese walls to explain how and what the FSSC does.
There has been some speculation – and misinformation - in the industry about the consultation process into the examination review currently being undertaken by the Skills Council in order to set up a clear industry-wide, single qualifications framework (Exams: FSSC plots a foggy route, IFA Online, 19 March).
IFAonline reported that we have ‘thrown the ball firmly back in the court of awarding bodies’ with our consultation document (published on 19 March and available for downloading). However, it’s not quite that simple.
The Financial Services Skills Council is not a regulator, we are not an awarding body, and we are not a training provider. It's not our intention to enter the qualifications market – there are enough sufficient, well-established and experienced bodies who do this job. And with regard to training, our role should be viewed as seeking to influence the supply of training so that it better meets the needs of our sector.
With the establishment of the Skills Council, good advice practice is now ring-fenced by a robust quality circle – qualified assurance is not the sole responsibility of one body, rather it is shared because different bodies have different interests, different expertise and unique contributions to make to assuring quality.
The Skills Council will issue comprehensive guidance on what an appropriate examination should cover; the Awarding Bodies develop the exams which help firms meet the FSA requirement, and QCA/SQA judges the technical quality of a proposed exam.
Once the Skills Council is satisfied that an examination is relevant to industry needs, it will then be published as an appropriate examination. We are the only body recognised by the UK government to set occupational standards for our industry.
The exam review is being carried out in stages. In April, the Skills Council will be publishing specifications that set out what is required for an examination to be deemed ‘appropriate’ (as opposed to the previous wording of ‘approved’). The Mortgage module will also be available in April and the long-term care module by June. Future strands of work will be decided upon, following consultation with the industry and the FSA.
There has been criticism in the past that practical skills in what is accepted good practice – building a relationship with a client, researching needs, giving advice and not selling a solution, and so on – have not been effectively tested.
The modules that we are proposing will not only require a greater breadth and depth of knowledge than before, as appropriate to our sector, but will also cover examination of the candidate’s ability to integrate and apply understanding from across the syllabus. Taken together, the modules are the definitive statement of the threshold knowledge and understanding required to pass an Appropriate Examination for those advising on retail investment.
We are currently carrying out a pilot project for our advice skills module, that tests out the application of knowledge, among independent financial advisers and direct sales advisers. This pilot is being rolled out in stages, focusing firstly on major banks – we have now signed up Standard Life, Abbey National and Zurich Advice Network to take part in the pilot, which will run from May this year to March 2005. We are negotiating with many others including Nationwide, HSBC and Lloyds TSB.
The aim of the pilot is to test out work-based assessment programmes for individuals to come up with a benchmark for the industry to try to verify and equate individual advice skills from company to company.
The FSA’s remit is to protect consumers by ensuring that firms employ competent people. The Skills Council supports this remit, and intends that all examinations and qualifications used in the sector will represent sound business investment because they protect consumers, and thus the reputation of the firm; add value to the business, because they equip individuals to perform competently, and add value for those that pass examinations, because they enhance career prospects.
Developments in our industry have created a skills agenda common to all types of business across the sector. We recognise that while learning and self-development skills are essential, so will be the ability to combine business awareness with professional and technical know-how and customer service skills. We look forward to working in partnership with the industry to realise our far-reaching goals.
Is this how you see the FSSC? What do you understand to be their role? What had you previously believed their role to be?
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