The announcement of the education pathway proposal surprised the Financial Planning Association, resulting in a comprehensive canvassing of member sentiment that led to its counterproposal.
The consult on the experience pathway was launched last year by the Government in response to the same proposal made by the opposition days earlier.
In her first one-on-one interview since taking over as FPA chief executive, Sarah Abood tells Professional Planner the association was “caught off guard” with the announcement.
“It’s a good example about how we go about policy and advocacy on issues like that, [which] are big and new,” Abood says.
“We have a policy platform of the issues we believe are important and are advocating for all the time to both [political parties] – this is not one we were expecting.”
Some industry associations showed enthusiasm for the consultation – in a media release, the Stockbrokers and Financial Advisers Association said the proposal “restores common sense to education standards”.
The FPA was tepid in its initial response as it welcomed the discussion but showed some hesitancy to giving its full commitment to the idea.
“The FPA believes there is scope to develop a more comprehensive framework for recognising prior experience,” FPA head of policy and standards, Ben Marshan, told Professional Planner after the ALP made the original proposal.
“However, educational standards for planners are a core element of ongoing professionalism and we shouldn’t backtrack on these.”
The submissions to the consultation became less nuanced in their view as multiple advisers said it was a step back for the industry.
The Association of Financial Advisers also proposed a compromise that would still require advisers to commit to some level of education.
The financial services minister Jane Hume and her shadow counterpart Stephen Jones defended the original proposal and dismissed any notion it would be “watering down” professionalism.
Finding their voice
The FPA canvassed the views of members with a survey that generated 2,000 responses, with most of the feedback concerned specifically about the experience pathway.
“There was a strong view that our members didn’t like the experience pathway as presented,” Abood says. “But they also thought the current education standards were too inflexible and didn’t recognise the issues many were experiencing.”
“When you have really strong views at either end of the spectrum, the views of the people in the middle can get drowned out.”
For that reason, although the association did not support the experience pathway in its submission, it proposed that if the government nevertheless chooses to proceed it should have a sunset clause and an end date.
“If the Government does proceed, it should be both increased to 15 years’ experience in the last 20 years and include a 10-year sunset by which time the financial adviser is required to have ceased providing advice or met the education standards,” the FPA wrote in its submission.
Abood says under the originally proposed pathway a 30-year-old planner could have practiced for potentially the next 30 years.
“Our members were overwhelmingly saying to us they thought it was important that consumers could have confidence their financial planner was tertiary-educated,” Abood says.