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Exams have changed with the times

In the 10 years since CeMAP was introduced, 150,000 advisers have taken the qualification which has evolved with the market and the advent of the digital age, says Mark Roberts

Anniversaries are curious milestones, leading to reflection on ground already covered as well as the road that lies ahead.

This year the media will doubtless dedicate acres of space to picking over the bones of Tony Blair’s 10 years in office, while tributes will abound in the summer to mark the passing of a decade since Diana, Princess of Wales’ death.

This year also marks the 10th year since we introduced the Certificate in Mortgage Advice and Practice. Since its inception in 1997, 150,000 people have taken the qualification. This is a substantial figure, which looks even more impressive when considering that there are only 55,000 mortgage advisers operating in the UK.

CeMAP was the first qualification for mortgage brokers. It came at a time when market regulation was still under discussion, the Mortgage Code was being put in place for lenders and intermediaries and the Mortgage Code Compliance Board was yet to be established as an independent body to oversee the market. Only with hindsight is it possible to get a true perspective of the scale of changes that have taken place over the past 10 years. The pace of change has continued to rattle along with voluntary regulation giving way to statutory regulation and the Financial Services Authority taking up the reins once held by the MCCB.

Following its release in 1997, CeMAP was adopted as one of the required market standards for brokers from December 31 2002.

There have been a number of qualifications re-leased since designed to reflect changing conditions in the marketplace and provide greater choice and help for brokers – for example, an advanced mortgage advice qualification and qualifications in equity release.

The materials in all qualifications have had to keep up with the times, reflect evolving rules and regulations in the market and keep up with significant advances in product design and style.

Each year sees updates made to the testing syllabus and new learning and training materials launched to help candidates gain the necessary knowledge to prepare for and ultimately pass the exam.

Mortgage qualifications also need to remain rigorous and challenging, ensuring that customers can have confidence that their advisers are giving them the best possible advice.

I noted with interest two pieces in the same edition of this magazine recently (Mortgage Strategy March 19), one suggesting CeMAP questions are too difficult and the other implying that mortgage qualifications have been made too easy because they involve multiple choice questions.

It is important that questions remain challenging and, as informed academics will testify, multiple choice questioning can be as challenging as those requiring extended written answers, provided they are framed correctly.

Over the past decade there has been a fundamental shift not only in the attitude to training and benchmark qualifications but also in the way these are undertaken. As the past millennium drew to its close, the mortgage market was still getting used to the Mortgage Code.

Market practitioners knew there were rules and standards by which they should operate but the voluntary status of the Mortgage Code meant it was difficult to enforce in an effective way.

Similarly, training and competence were recognised as having an important part to play but for many companies, pushing new recruits in at the deep end and giving them practical experience was as far as their training programmes stretched.

This attitude has since been consigned to history and, driven by the statutory re-quirements introduced by the FSA, there is no room for complacency.

Not only is training and competence now a cornerstone of the foundations upon which firms must build their businesses, but it is also something they must be able to quantifiably demonstrate.

CeMAP and its associated training aids, like its competitors, have been designed to become essential tools for the industry, allowing firms to not only reach the standards required but also to document the route they have taken and the work they have done in getting there.

This in turn has helped to raise standards across the industry, driving consumer confidence in the advice they are receiving and allowing companies to be assured concerning the standard of service they are offering.

In line with the more intense focus on training and qualifications, it has also become easier to access learning materials and sit exams.

The internet has obviously played a huge role in this. The move into the digital age has brought about the biggest change in the qualifications arena.

Access to online training and testing materials now is a far cry from what was available in 1997. The advent of online testing with instant results has made it easier for advisers to sit exams and taken the stress out of waiting to see if they have passed.

Looking back at the many market changes of the past 10 years it is difficult to imagine what the next decade has in store. But the need for mortgage advice will not diminish and there is no doubt that the regulator will continue to demand the highest standards of brokers operating under its rules.

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