FSA head of industry training David Jackman today gave his blessing to a new online service jointly ...
FSA head of industry training David Jackman today gave his blessing to a new online service jointly launched by the CII, LIA and SOFA, which short-circuits proposals in CP157 for a re-examination regime to maintain standards of adviser competency.
The "financial ASSESS" portal will provide online literature, a Knowledge Assessment System and testing for use by firms and individual IFAs - all in line with the modular approach suggested by CP157, and all designed to ensure advisers are up to speed on the latest regulations and are encouraged to brush up on their knowledge base.
Jackman says ASSESS answers the re-testing questions raised in CP157 and says he had hoped the industry would step up to the challenge.
"It chimes with what I hoped would happen. Training is a subject that the industry has to grab with two hands. It shouldn't just be about 'what those people at Canary Wharf get up to'," says Jackman.
"It must be clear that doing the FPC is not good enough – maintaining competence is something you have to work at," he adds.
Jackman believes ASSESS is a good tool for maintaining competency, and, from the FSA's point of view, demonstrates that advisers are up to speed for regulatory purposes.
However, there is one remaining question to deal with concerning invigilation.
As constructed, ASSESS not only allows tied and independent financial advisers to maintain competency through self-testing, but also allows the printing of "Assessment records" that are considered "formal records of their knowledge at a given point in time".
Achieving FPC or any other status online is not out of the question per se as regards the FSA, Jackman says, but the regulator is keen to develop a regime that gives consumers confidence that exams taken online are not being done in an office with help from a "mate"- hence more thought will be needed on the issue of invigilators.
In the longer term, Jackman says he wants to see every part of the training and competency process moved online.
That could include exams provided online on demand, so that people in the industry are not tied to rigid exam time-tables, training and exams available through the workplace, tailored exams to fill knowledge gaps, testing done in ways other than multiple choice questions, and a competency "MOT", which is not necessarily performed every year.
Jackman says he would also like to see further development of an online logbook allowing advisers to carry CPD from workplace to workplace, and tests for simplified products.
CII director general Sandy Scott, SOFA managing director Brian Lawless, and LIA head of public affairs John Ellis jointly say that the common front has produced a solution that the FSA is highly unlikely to turn down.
Scott says: "We now have a tool that will stop re-testing in its tracks."
"ASSESS provides compliance with regulations, which is important, it improves business results, and it reduces risks, for example related to FSA pressure to improve compliance standards, or related to PI cover by providing evidence that staff are competent."
"We can say to consumers that we now have a tool to revalidate the competence of people working in the industry."
Ellis says that the importance of consumer confidence and business reputations has been studied for some time by the LIA in relation to training and competency, and that the ASSESS solution means a chance to focus on maintaining standards, not just following regulations.
"CPD meant maintaining competence has been left very much to chance. When we started seeing people not following up basic exams by maintaining competence, we decided, two to three years ago, that we needed to re-judge CPD."
Lawless says that put in perspective of yesterday's BBC Radio 4 Money Box programme's undercover investigation of independent and tied adviser standards, ASSESS becomes even more important as a tool for maintaining competency.
"Also, with the FSA moving towards 'light touch' regulation, it means IFAs more than ever need to maintain professional standards. ASSESS will raise standards in the industry. If followed the industry will improve," adds Lawless.
Sandy Scott adds that the financial ASSESS portal will be followed by others focused on individuals working in insurance and broking, starting with insurance next month.
And he adds that the CII intends to "seriously look at" consumer education by the end of this year and next year, both in terms of how any online education could leverage off the work already done to develop financial ASSESS, and in terms of the cost to providers – as they would likely be tapped to fund any proposition.
Financial ASSESS costs £75+VAT for individuals, with cheaper rates for multi-user or corporate users.
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