The post-2012 regime for continuing professional development (CPD) is the "most transformational" aspect of the Retail Distribution Review (RDR), according to Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment (CISI) managing director Ruth Martin.
Martin said it was important advisory firms did not focus too much on ensuring their advisers meet the new QCF Level 4 qualifications requirements.
She said the "biggest and most strategic changes" were in CPD and ethics.
From 1 January 2013, advisers will be required to complete 35 hours of CPD each year, of which 21 hours must be 'structured' learning such as attending seminars, lectures, conferences, workshops or courses.
Client-facing individuals will all also be required to obtain a statement of professional standing (SPS) - effectively a practicing certificate - from an accredited body as evidence they are meeting the standards.
"Going from one qualification level to another hits people hard because they have to take exams, and people understandably get stressed," Martin said.
"However, for the first time, CPD will not only be required, but monitored, regulated and audited.
"The biggest challenge will be for people who have not been in a CPD regime to get into the right mindset: logging their activity systematically, applying in good time for an SPS..."
Martin said a number of CISI member firms had already expressed a desire to begin their CPD regime now in order to be ready for the new rules.
She also insisted the major professional bodies have been working closely together on the changes.
"The main challenge will be trying to get a degree of commonality on what we count as structured learning and the other challenge will come in how we enable individuals to log what they doing."
In June, the FSA announced it was "minded to accredit" six existing professional bodies, including the Chartered Insurance Institute and the Institute of Financial Planning, as accredited bodies.
They will be responsible for monitoring CPD and issuing SPSs to advisers.
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