Stephen Glenfield

With 10,000 advisers now having completed the FASEA exam, the authority’s CEO believes the narrative should turn to what the industry has achieved and what the ongoing drive to professionalism means to Australian consumers.

Past the halfway point in the exam transition schedule, and with about half of the adviser workforce exam-qualified, Glenfield tells Professional Planner he’s “pleased” with the way the program is performing.

But it’s important, he explains, to take stock and applaud the work advisers have put in.

“I’d like to see more promotion of the advisers that have stepped to this point,” Glenfield says. “10,000 advisers demonstrating they have the skills needed for the profession is a strong story.”

There is a considerable amount for the industry, and FASEA, to be pleased with. An 84 per cent pass rate for the exam is an appropriate benchmark; ten per cent either way and the exam would have been seen as either too easy or too prohibitive. The authority has also shifted relatively seamlessly to using online proctoring for its exams in response to the pandemic. Even the low pass rate for second sitters – which was identified as a concern earlier in the year – has climbed from 54 per cent to 65 per cent in the most recent (August) exam.

Advisers celebrating their exam success have become an ubiquitous sight on LinkedIn feeds every time a batch of results becomes available.

“I’m pleased with where we’ve got to,” Glenfield says. “I had faith in the outcome of this.”

An interesting journey

It hasn’t been an easy ride for the authority’s CEO, and he readily – albeit flatly – acknowledges the mistakes FASEA has made along the way. “The communication piece we’ve talked about and we’ve acknowledged we could have done that better,” he says.

Other criticisms – like, for example, the charge that FASEA hasn’t accounted for specialists like accountants and stockbrokers in the exam – he is willing to argue.

“It’s been highlighted that we need to write the exam regardless of specialty, but we’re not seeing that,” he says. “The pass rate holds up regardless of specialisation. We’ve been really conscious of writing an exam that will perform in that fashion.”

Some of the criticism is born out of misunderstanding, he says. Some have argued, for example that the Professional Year program has inhibited new entrants from joining the industry.

“There are probably more going through the PY than people expect,” he says, noting that while media have reported on 22 new PY entrants on ASIC’s registry, PY candidates only jump onto the registry once they’ve completed the first six months of training and passed the exam. Even then, he notes, there is a lag while licensees complete the registrations.

“On our records there’s just about 180 doing the PY and about 70 of those have now done the exam,” he says, adding that there are also around 900 students currently completing FASEA-approved degrees.

In fairness, formulating and administering a program as broad as the one Treasury charged FASEA with back in 2017 was never going to be an easy task. Criticism – some fair, a lot misplaced – has been lobbed Glenfield’s way since the day he took over from ex-CEO Deen Sanders, who copped his own share of abuse.

Glenfield says his journey at FASEA has been an interesting one.

“You get various assessments of how you’re doing,” he continues. “I’ve tried to look through the differences to look at the underlying issues and see what FASEA can do.”

A solid foundation

The CEO says that presenting financial advice to the public as a profession has been his “light at the end of the tunnel” during the last two years.

Asked if FASEA’s mandate might have been different if it was conceived after the Hayne royal commission, rather than before, he pauses and reflects that everyone has the right to a different view on hypotheticals. “But I think the FASEA legislation of the Corporations Amendment is a solid foundation regardless of the inquiry,” he says.

Glenfield reveals the authority is still in regular contact with Treasury and discusses a “broad range” of topics. “We highlight how the programs going, how the exam’s going, upcoming guidance and legislation,” he says.

As to the future of FASEA, he knows that once the 2026 transition date is passed and all existing advisers are qualified, the landscape may change for the authority and for himself. The ongoing education and ethics functions will still need to be administered, but the shift from transition to steady-state administration may lead to a rethink of the body in charge.

“Whether that’s done by FASEA or someone else will ultimately be a government decision,” Glenfield says.

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