As we herald a new age of higher education and ethical standards, two questions keep arising from financial advisers: what will the specific degree-equivalent requirements be and what will be in the competency exam?

Unfortunately, we don’t have answers to either of those questions at Professional Planner. The Financial Adviser Standards and Ethics Authority (FASEA) is working out the detail, a process that will take time and rigour.

But what we do know is that the start date is approaching. From January 2021, all financial planners will have to pass an exam; by January 2024, they will have to meet the new education requirements.

This Professional Planner Infocus report was produced in partnership with Kaplan. To see the full PDF version from the August magazine, click here. 

It’s natural, therefore, that a third question would come up from practising financial advisers: how do I prepare, in the meantime, to sit an exam if I haven’t undertaken formal education for years or even decades?

According to Brian Knight, chief executive of Kaplan Professional, the hurdle of sitting for an exam can be a psychological one.

“People only have a certain period of time and many haven’t studied for years,” he says. “There’s a fear factor there.”

“Whether it’s technical content or soft skills or anti-money laundering, if you haven’t studied at that level consistently and you go to study for an exam, it will be a challenge,” he says.

It’s a hypothesis backed up by several studies, which have drawn a link between exam anxiety and poor academic performance.

It’s evident at an anecdotal level, too. Knight was recently contacted by an adviser in the later stages of his career who was overwhelmed by fear about exams, partly because it was something he had not confronted for decades. It’s not an uncommon scenario, Knight says.

In his opinion, the way to combat that fear is to start practising taking exams months or even years before the formal requirements begin. That can mean a number of things – studying competency areas, taking formal or informal tests, increasing education or continuing professional development (CPD) training to give yourself the best chance.

Although advisers have three-and-a-half years to complete the exam, his view is that the earlier advisers start preparing, the more likely they are to be able to address problems with either competence or nerves.

Identifying advisers’ strengths and weaknesses