Since we opened The Paraplanner Club six months ago, we've been getting lots of interesting questions within the Paraplanner community.
Over the coming months, we'll be answering the most popular questions through our blog, so stay tuned.
A common question among the paraplanning community is which professional body should I use to gain my qualifications?
So, what a better way to kick off our first blog than to cover this very subject. We will be talking about the different qualifications available to you and what to think about when choosing an examining body to start your studies.
I began my own personal exam journey over 10 years ago now. Back then, I thought there was only one route and wasn’t fully aware of my options.
There are a number of options available and I can see why so many of you are finding it difficult to decide which route to take.
In this blog, we will compare the options available to you side by side to hopefully give you a better understanding.
However, we need to be clear before we go any further we do not advocate whether one qualification is better than another. This guide is purely to help you gain a better understanding of what options are available to you, and help you make a decision as to what is best for you and your learning style.
Is there a minimum qualification requirement to become a paraplanner?
Paraplanning is still a relatively new career path within the industry, and there is currently no minimum qualification requirement.
However, most employers have an expectation that as a paraplanner, you will be a minimum RQF level 4 qualified, with many encouraging further studies to a RQF Level 6.
Within the financial services industry, the main examining bodies are;
The Chartered Insurance Institute (CII)
The Chartered Institute for Securities and Investment (CISI)
The London Institute of Banking & Finance (LIBF)
Each examining body have their own version of the following qualifications
Certificate in Paraplanning,
Diploma of Financial Planning
Advanced Diploma in Financial Planning
I am new to the industry, how on earth do I decide which is right for me?
We ran a poll through our LinkedIn page recently to see which examining body our fellow paraplanners used to reach their level 4.
As you can see, 84% of paraplanners reached their level 4 using the CII route. This result does not surprise us. The CII have been around for the longest and are the most recognised within the financial services industry. I personally sat all my exams with the CII; however, this was due to me not being aware of the other options at that time 10 years ago.
Does this mean that you must go down the CII route to be successful in the world of paraplanning? No, absolutely not. However, one point to keep in mind is that your employer may have a preferred route so you should check this before commencing any study.
I keep hearing RQF Level X, Y and Z, what does RQF actually mean?
Like when we were at school, college, or university. All professional qualifications are registered with Ofqual in Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF).
Below is a quick summary of what each qualification level means.
Level 3 qualification is equivalent to an ‘A level’
Level 4 qualification is equivalent to a ‘First year of a degree’
Level 6 qualification is equivalent to a degree with honours – for example, a bachelor of the arts (BA) hons, Bachelor of Science (BCs) hons
Level 7 qualification is equivalent to a master’s degree, for example a Master of Arts (MA), Master of Science (MSc).
How are the qualifications structured?
Although each examining body qualification is to the same RQF level, how they are structured does vary. Taking this into account can be vital when planning which route is best suited to your learning style.
The type of examinations out there are;
Multiple choice question (MCQ) examination
Mixed assessment (both coursework and examination)
As I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, the CII, LIBF and CISI all have their own version of certificate in paraplanning, diploma in financial planning and advanced diploma which I will cover in more detail below;
The Certificate in Paraplanning
A specific qualification aimed at only paraplanners is still relatively new, with the LIBF introducing their Diploma in Paraplanning in January this year. We have found from discussions within the paraplanning community that the take up of this qualification is still on the low side, however it is starting to increase in popularity.
“Being new to the profession, I found the J09 study text very useful in terms of being a kind of ‘Paraplanning manual’. I had previously studied R01, R02 and R03 and found that the J09 study text was a great tool to see how this theoretical knowledge could be put into practice. However, the assignments themselves were very tricky. “
“I think the referencing is quite difficult. When you are doing the assignments there are some things you just know, but you feel that you need to evidence everything that is included that is factual. “
Amelia Castle from Informed Choice decided to take the CISI Certificate in Paraplanning qualification following completion of the CII Diploma in Regulated Financial Planning.
“I believed the CISI exam would provide me with a different aspect than the CII, as I had already completed the Diploma from the CII. Most paraplanner roles want you to have the diploma rather than the paraplanning certificate. I am now studying the CISI level 6 exam with a view to becoming a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) with the CISI.”
An important point to keep in mind is the overlap between qualifications, for instance:
R01 – RO3 which you need for the CII Certificate in Paraplanning makes up 50% of what you need for the CII Diploma in Regulated Financial Planning.
Completion of the LIBF Diploma in Paraplanning will allow exemption from Unit 1 of the Diploma for Financial Advisers (DipFA®).
The CISI Certificate in Paraplanning also makes up two thirds of the CISI Level 4 Investment Advice Diploma.
From what we can see, working towards a paraplanning qualification will not only help you in your day-to-day role but will also complement your studies whilst working towards the traditional Level 4 Diploma.
Diploma in Financial Planning
The traditional route for the majority of paraplanners within the industry is to take one of the level 4 diplomas above which is a FCA requirement for Financial Advisers to be able to provide regulated financial advice.
Historically, many who began their careers within the banking industry will have automatically gone down the LIBF (previously known as IFS School of Finance). Investment Management steered more to the CISI and others to the CII.
We asked our mentors Reece and Alex how they found studying for the Level 4 Diploma with the CII and LIBF.
“Taking the LIBF (IFS at the time) route to my diploma allowed me to take a practical route to the Level 4 qualification. Having to only sat 1 multiple choice exam was a big plus for me but another advantage was the coursework part of the course proved very useful for me. The only downside I found from taking this course (which may have changed in the 7 years since) is that the study materials for the second module were not a great help but the fact that there was a tutor and a forum accessible throughout the course was incredibly helpful.” Reece Edwards
“Throughout my financial services career I’ve only sat CII exams. When I joined an IFA firm, all the financial advisers had gone down that route and being new to the industry I followed their lead. Since I started studying, the CII have added good resources like Revision Mate to aid studying but I’ve always found using various training companies who provide some excellent resources to accompany your studying a benefit.” Alex Ottowell
Advanced Diploma in Financial Planning
The route to the CII Advanced Diploma in Financial Planning is a little more confusing than it is with the CISI and LIBF. This is due to the wide variety of exams available that can count towards the credits required.
The overall credits required are 290 however, if you have taken R01-R06 to attain the Diploma in Regulated in Financial Planning you will have achieved 100 credits. You will need 120 credits at the advanced level with the remaining 70 credits from any personal finance unit, excluding LF1.
When I was working through my advanced exams to Chartered status with the CII, I was recommended to combine the AF & J0 equivalent together in the same exam sitting. This worked well for me, and I have heard many others have done the same, so it is worth considering if you decide to choose this route.
CISI relaunched the Certified Financial Planner certification in 2019 which is now seen as the UK’s highest qualification for Financial Planners and Paraplanners due to the change to Level 7 on the Ofqual in Regulated Qualifications Framework.
LIBF have also introduced a new level 6-unit Financial Planning in Retirement (FPIR) in April 2021 which comprises three assessment areas.
Can I have recognition for other relevant qualifications I have achieved?
If you have previous qualifications or credits from another professional body, institute, or university, you can check to see if it gives you exemptions from any modules or units with the examining bodies below.
How can I find out which type of learning is best for me?
We all have preferred methods of learning. Do you know how you learn the best?
According to the VAK learning styles model, most people fall into one of three learning styles. These three learning styles are.
A Visual learner prefers to see or observe things, including pictures, diagrams, demonstrations, displays, handouts, films, flip-charts, etc. These are the people who will work from lists and written directions and instructions.
Someone with an Auditory learning style has a preference for the transfer of information through listening: to the spoken word, of self or others, of sounds and noises. These are the people who are happy being given spoken instructions over the telephone and can remember all the words to songs that they hear!
People who learn through Kinesthetic experience prefer physical experience - touching, feeling, holding, doing, practical hands-on experience. These types of people prefer to experiment, physical and tactile, without first looking at the instructions.
Most people have a main preferred learning style, but this is normally a blend of the three. Some people have a very strong preference, and others have an even mix of two or three styles.
When you sign up as a mentee, our mentors can help you decide which learning style is best for you through our tools and resources.
Here at The Paraplanner Club we love…
There is a wealth of knowledge and experience within the paraplanning community.
What is even better is everyone’s a friendly bunch wanting to help others achieve their best.
Some of our favourite pages that will help you become an awesome paraplanner are;
We hope this helps you on your exam journey. Before deciding which route is right for you, make sure you fully research each examining body and choose the one that fits alongside your learning style. And remember, exams are only the foundations.
The real learning starts with the doing and putting into practice what you have learnt in your day-to-day role. If you have any questions, please pop them into our private LinkedIn Group which you can join here. Or just drop by to say hello. We would love to hear from you.