In recent months, we’ve written at length about incoming education standards and the importance of getting them right if the industry is to transition successfully into a profession the public can trust.
Formulating those standards is both a difficult and multi-faceted process. The Financial Adviser Standards and Ethics Authority (FASEA) must decide what fundamental learning makes a planner professional, while encouraging the education market to make those options available. It also has to determine what voluntary, pre-profession education will be considered sufficient, and where to draw the line with older degrees.
These standards are being formulated against the backdrop of a restless and anxious financial advice market. Advisers are demanding clarity and the opportunity to share their concerns. They will probably get both – sooner rather than later, I hope.
While improving the consumer perception of financial advice must be the endgame, the stress advisers are facing while they wait is valid and could be alleviated, even if ever-so-slightly, by establishing a forum for advisers to have their questions answered – even if the answer is “we don’t yet know”.
The associations have stepped into this arena, but can share only their interpretation of what has already been released. These messages have been misinterpreted and mangled upon retellings at times, which may be one reason FASEA has concerns about releasing information outside of official channels.
But I’m still hoping something will happen soon to break the holding pattern, whether it’s renewed guidance, the start of the consultation period or more public question-and-answer sessions with advisers.
It’s become apparent from several conversations I’ve had that advisers want to feel like they are part of the process. In becoming unified, as a profession, they want to feel like the answers are being provided directly to them, rather than channeled through intermediaries.
That’s not always possible during significant reform. Sometimes, intermediaries – including associations and the media – are the most effective ways of communicating to a market of tens of thousands. However, direct website communication, social media, webcasts, transcripts and roadshows can be effective ways to foster inclusion, even if complete clarity cannot be delivered.
Between now and when education pathways are finalised, many advisers will be considering their futures and every piece of insight FASEA provides can help them make that call to stay or go.
One adviser told me he has three options if his education does not stack up: go back and do the required additional qualification; take on a coaching, rather than client-facing, role in his business; or sell and retire early. The latter two options, he said, would have ramifications for his family and clients and his decision will depend on a number of so-far undetermined variables.
In December, FASEA chief Deen Sanders said he didn’t want adviser anxiety to undermine career decision-making. Staying in regular contact with the market during the unenviable process of deciding what the profession will look like could serve to ease that anxiety.