IFA network Sesame is stepping up calls for the introduction of a licensing system for advisers enabling those less qualified to continue practicing after 2012.
It says allowing some advisers to operate on a more limited basis and under supervision could help prevent an anticipated 30% drop in numbers over the next three years, adding the FSA is "too focused" on academic assessment.
Rules expected to be unveiled in this month's RDR discussion paper include a requirement for all existing and new advisers to reach QCA Level 4 in "every element" of their studies by the 2012 deadline.
Some critics have sounded the death-knell for the financial advice sector saying experienced advisers will simply opt to exit the industry rather than take new exams.
However, the FSA has kept the door open to the possibility of non exam-based options. In November's RDR Feedback Statement, it said it would explore "some form of competency-based assessment as a possible alternative".
Many have already called for the introduction of a licensing system, pointing to its success in the legal and accountancy professions, and Sesame says it may be the only way forward.
"Competency in its truest sense is about knowledge, skills and experience, which is why we are urging [the] FSA to be open-minded about the avenues that will lead to higher professional standards," Sesame sales and marketing director Stephen Young says.
"A rigid approach risks unintentionally disenfranchising a significant proportion of competent advisers - therefore potentially reducing clients' access to professional advice."
Young adds Sesame's pleas are not an attempt to dumb down standards, adding he would be happy to see the same logic applied to specialist areas of advice, such as pension transfers, where qualifications above QCA Level 4 should be mandatory before advisers are allowed to operate in these complex areas.
"Whatever the QCA Level 4 is ultimately defined as, it should not overlook experience and knowledge," he says.
"It would be an utter travesty to force experienced and competent advisers out of the industry, particularly at a time when consumers need more advice, not less."
HAVE YOUR SAY
"Translation: If you require advisers to be competent we stand to lose a great many who will not be up to scratch." Harry Katz, Norwest ConsultantsIFAonline
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