A new research project out of Western Sydney University will try to discover how advisers feel the FASEA educate mandate has affected them, as well as provide a ‘principled morality score’ to chart their development since the changes began.
Unlike the FASEA exam itself, the survey will provide advisers detailed feedback and give them the opportunity to engage with the university on the test’s veracity.
According to Michelle Cull, assistant dean and a senior lecturer at WSU and the academic driving the project, the feedback loop is highly intentional.
“The survey contains the defining issues test that provides the principled morality score, but it also asks questions of advisers as to how they found FASEA’s ethics course and studying for the national exam, how they’ve found the experience and whether that’s affected them,” Cull explains.
“I’m providing the score back to advisers with notes because I’m aware some are disappointed they didn’t get feedback from the ethics exam. This isn’t the exam, of course, but it tries to give them some information about what the responses might mean.”
The survey itself covers two main areas. The first is a ‘defining issues test’, which is a standardised moral development model developed by American psychologist James Rest in 1974. Cull says that using a standardised test allows her to compare the scores of advisers with other professions, which she hopes will give her the opportunity to quell any doubts about adviser ethics.
“The media in general are using all these specific cases to show that financial advisers – who are, in some cases, people pretending to be financial advisers – are doing the wrong thing and aren’t ethical. I’m hoping we can prove otherwise,” she says.
The second area of the test attempts to understand how Financial Adviser Standards and Ethics Authority’s education mandate, in particularly the adviser exam, has impacted advisers’ day-to-day work and decision-making.
“We provide a range of statements to gauge how strongly advisers agree with them, such as whether advisers believe they are ethical themselves,” she says.
The research project is being funded by the university, which awarded Cull a Women’s Fellowship grant earlier this year.
The academic says she hopes that by conducting robust research into the area, she can not only chart the moral development of advisers in Australia but clarify how the new educational and ethics requirements have influenced moral awareness, as well as build a database for further studies and provide valuable feedback to advisers.
“I didn’t want to have this as just another research study advisers do, I wanted to show the practical side, to prove that advisers actually are ethical and provide evidence on whether there is a link between education levels or not,” she says.
For the research to make inroads, however, Cull needs a relatively high participation rate from advisers on the Australian Securities and Investment Commission’s register. To that end, the Financial Planning Association have agreed to award CPD points to their members who complete the survey.
“I’m hoping advisers will get on board,” she says. “Opening the issue up for research and discussion is really important.”