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Don’t dumb down mortgage exams

The most amazing thing to see in a Financial Services Authority consultation paper is an endorsement of the status quo. But that is more or less the situation with the consultation on the FSA’s Training and Competence Sourcebook.

Yes, I know the FSA intends to reduce the sourcebook to a third of its size. Yes, I also know the consultation proposes a simplification of the rules and a continuation of the move towards principles-based rules. And yes, the FSA should be congratulated on such moves.

But the most significant aspect of the consultation is the emphasis on the present examinations from the Financial Services Skills Council.

It would be surprising if anyone with responsibility for consumer protection and a stable financial services market could contemplate further dumbing down exam requirements.

I emphasise the term ‘further dumbing down’, as those advisers who took the first versions of the CeMAP qualification were expected to pass a written exam – now all three papers are multiple choice. It was not without pain that the Mortgage Code Compliance Board worked to get advisers to pass appropriate exams.

Of course, I recognise that passing exams alone does not guarantee professional and consumer-focussed advisers. Other factors come into play such as experience. But at a time when advisers wish to be seen in the same light as their professional counterparts they have to be educated to a similar standard.

Not only is it compulsory for solicitors and accountants to take degree level exams, they are also required to undertake a number of hours of formal, structured continual professional development every year.

And there are product areas such as lifetime loans where advisers need to show they have higher levels of knowledge. What better way could there be than the successful completion of an appropriate exam and CPD programme?

My words will not be supported by many advisers who feel exams are an unnecessary burden. But I believe that well qualified, professional staff help create more business and are more likely to retain clients. To encourage consumers not to go direct to lenders, advisers have to add value. A well qualified adviser team is one way firms can show their commitment to operating professionally. You never know, firms that charge fees might even be able to raise their hourly rate.

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