Working in the financial services industry is becoming an increasingly popular choice. Gone are the bad old days where individuals often fell into working within a financial services firm, or worse were embarrassed to admit to their social circle where they were working! Since the Retail Distribution Review in 2012 and the introduction of level 4 qualification minimum requirements for certain job roles, we have seen our industry becoming more of a career of choice.
The paraplanner role is no different. Often a misunderstood role, the job of a paraplanner is gradually becoming a more respected one and recognised as a career, with key skills that compliment those of a financial adviser. A good paraplanner is essential to the job a financial adviser carries out, saving the financial adviser issues with compliance and processing with each client case.
Our industry is a heavily regulated one, and one where individuals are encouraged to study towards and achieve a variety of qualifications. For paraplanners, there are lots of commonly asked questions around pursuing technical qualifications, such as;
What should employers and employees expect from each other in terms of regulated exam support?
What questions should you be asking yourself before committing to studying for and sitting financial services exams?
What about your exam provider, and your expectations of them?
These are the sorts of questions we aim to examine in this blog.
What employer support is available?
There is huge disparity amongst employers, in relation to the support available for paraplanners undergoing regulated exams. The crème de la crème version includes financial support such as paying for exam materials, at least the first exam sitting (some cover one resit if required) and the provision of in-house revision workshops. This level of support for employees is not the norm so if you are in this fortunate position don’t think every work environment is like this!
The other extreme is where paraplanners end up self-funding with no employer support either financial or in relation to study time. This is a tough ask – after a full day work the thought of getting to grips with regulation, tax, or pensions is probably not very appealing. Your grey cells will probably not be the most receptive either…
Employee considerations with employer sponsored regulated exam support
If an employer is providing exam support, they are likely to ask candidates to sign a study agreement. This means that if you change jobs having accepted this financial support there will be a clawback clause asking you to repay these monies if you leave within a certain timeframe. Before signing such an agreement ask yourself some key questions such as:
How long do I see myself with my current employer?
Do I enjoy my role?
What career progression is available?
Do I want to ‘owe’ monies if I potentially leave?
If you see your current role as more of a short-term thing then think long and hard about accepting any financial exam support. It might be better to bite the bullet and do it off your own back via self-funding than worry about a claw back in your final pay packet.
Study time availability
The issue of study time can be a thorny issue. Some employers, as already mentioned, expect you to do all your study in your own time. This can be very difficult with work and family life to juggle as well. Don’t forget the adage ‘if you don’t ask you don’t get’.
Sometimes the thought of asking is scary enough to put us off in the first place. But many employers will see the value in giving you some study time (as long as you don’t ask for the moon), as this can be a major factor in avoiding a ‘deferred success’ situation (A.K.A failing the exam). Missing the pass mark in an exam can be costly in terms of exam resit fees and the time it takes to study for the resit. In the long run, allocating study time is likely to save your employer some cold hard cash, a factor that is likely to be a motivator.
You are not an automaton – asking for some study time is both reasonable and a good idea – so as Nike say, ‘Just do it’. You will probably be pleasantly surprised at the reaction you get. A negative reaction will probably speak volumes about your current employer.
How do you decide which exam provider to use?
There are various providers of regulated exam support. The best known (not the same as the best loved) is the Chartered Insurance Institute (CII) which provides many different levels of qualifications. There are still a high proportion of employers that see the CII as the preferred examination route. This is however changing very slowly…
Other big players in this marketplace include the London Institute of Banking and Finance (LIBF) and the Chartered Insurance for Securities and Investment (CISI). Both offer a variety of qualification pathways, and it could be argued are more grateful for your business! Certainly, the LIBF modules are less expensive than the CII routes.
How do you decide which revision support materials to use?
The first thing to point out is, don’t always assume your qualification provider will offer the best revision materials. Shop around and consider what is offer by the range of providers. Look at your own learning style – are you best suited to a hard copy large study guide? Would a digital version suit you better?
With some providers you have no choice but to purchase their study guides as well as the exam sitting (LIBF and the CISI are two examples of this). The CII do allow you to book their ‘assessment only’ option with their R0 level 4 units, not however with the advanced exams.
Another way to find out about the different support options is to keep an eye on social media and peer group feedback. What’s the word on the street in terms of exam support providers that are good? Who consistently gets good feedback?
What about remote exam sittings?
All three previously mentioned exam bodies offer remote sittings in the comfort of your own home. The only one BTS consistently hear poor things about unfortunately is the CII. The CII have partnered with a company called PSI for the remote exam option, since 2020. Unfortunately, right from the off the system was plagued by issues, and as recently as the last January 2022 R06 sitting BTS have been hearing candidate horror stories in relation to this option.
Issues such as not being able to download the remote server properly, problems with the proctor and ID checks, not being given extra exam time despite this being pre agreed and other such issues continue to be fed back to BTS.
What other help and support is out there?
There are a variety of networks that can help and support you, so don’t think you are on your own. Groups such as NexGen Planners and the Financial Adviser Mentorship (FAM) provide a source of help and support. If nothing else, these networks will show you that there are many likeminded individuals going through the same journey as you. Sometimes just an online chat with someone else can help so much – showing you that it’s not just you who is struggling with a unit, or technical area.
So, our conclusion is…
The Financial Services Sector is a great place to work. Our industry never stands still so boredom is unlikely! Paraplanners have many options and choices and being aware of these is the main aim of this blog. There are so many individuals out there willing to give up their own time (free of charge) if you are struggling and need a natter. Reach out and you will be pleasantly surprised at the help you will receive.
Bespoke Training Solutions (BTS) have been supporting regulated exams for 19 years, Luiza Todd is a founding director with a wealth of experience (35 years) in this field. BTS regulated exam resources include study guides, revision workshops and e-Learning modules. Visit https://www.bespoketrainingsolutions.com to view options available to candidates in more detail.