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Adviser Qualifications – Will the benchmark be raised to Level 6, and how do I get there?

For some it was a nightmare, for some it was a like having an annoying fly buzzing around their head, and for others it was no big deal.  Whether it was a nightmare, mild annoyance or inconsequential to you, the sprint to Level 4 qualifications to meet the requirements of RDR is a dim and distant memory.  You can now relax.

Or can you?

I’m often asked by our CII exam candidates whether or not the bar will be raised again to QCF Level 6?  And if so, when?  Alas, my crystal ball is broken, but I personally do believe the bar will be raised to Level 6 at some point in the future.

There are many advisers who carried on with exams after they reached QCF Level 4.  Some found they quite enjoyed sitting exams (it’s true!) and others simply felt that as they were on the exam treadmill they may as well keep on going.  Many have already gone on to achieve Level 6 and Chartered and consequently should have little to worry about for the future.  Others still are taking the relaxation route and are stopping at Level 4 until such a time when they have no option but to sit further exams in order to remain in their career.  I can understand that choice if you aren’t a huge fan of exams.

Regardless of ‘if and when’ the bar is raised to Level 6, it can’t be a bad idea to keep in the habit of sitting exams and pushing forward so I always advise our candidates to keep on going even if it’s at a snail’s pace.  Increased knowledge has to be a good thing, and being Chartered is a great way to stand out from the crowd (who are currently at the now seemingly dull and boring Level 4).

What exams do I need to get to Chartered?

As a provider of learning resources for CII exams, I am often asked, “What exams do I need to complete to get to Chartered?”.  Sharp intake of breath.  Ohhh, if only it were that simple.  For some there is the straightforward route of “do x, y and z and all will be well”.  For most, the exams you have sat in the past matter a great deal and affect what you need to sit now.

Exam credits – what you need and how to get them

To get to Chartered you need to complete Level 6 as well as having five years’ experience in the profession.  The CII offer their popular Advanced Diploma in Financial Planning.  To obtain the CII’s Advanced Diploma, you need to complete four of six financial planning units known as AF1, AF2, AF3, AF4, AF5 and AF6 (AF5 being compulsory).  However you need to look at your overall exam credits to ensure you have the right number of credits and credits of the right type.  And that’s why I can never directly answer the question “What exams do I need to complete to get to Chartered?”.

Assuming you’re going down the CII route, you’ll need to get your learning statement from the CII.  Then you need to check how many credits you have – You need 290 credits for the Advanced Diploma, and of those 290 credits at least 120 credits must be at the Advanced Diploma Level ie. AF1, AF2, AF3, AF4, AF5 or AF6.  As each AF exam holds 30 credits, that’s the four AF exams you need to sit.  That assumes that you don’t have any exemptions such as holding withdrawn AFPC units.  See, I told you it wasn’t straightforward!

Sorry, not finished yet…. Then you must also have another 40 credits at Diploma level or above.  The remaining credits can come from any exam which is where you need to decide between the ‘easy route’ and the ‘relevant route’.

Taking the ‘easy route’ or the ‘relevant route’

Some advisers choose to go down the ‘easy route’ and sit multiple Certificate Level exams to get the remaining credits, regardless of what the exams are and the relevance to their work.  This route generally means more exams, but easier to pass.

Others prefer to go down the ‘relevant route’ and do more relevant but harder exams – usually from the Diploma pot.  As more credits are attached to them, overall you end up doing fewer exams than the ‘easy route’ but each exam is definitely tougher.

Many advisers specialise in certain aspects of financial advice and so it would make sense to focus on exams relevant to that speciality.  Additionally, sitting exams relevant to you (rather than going down the ‘easy route’) can only set you in good stead for the future if you’re ever looking to change employer.  I recently had a chat with a recruitment consultant who often comes across adviser CV’s with many irrelevant exams – it’s causes a headache when trying to place them in a new role.

Whether you take the ‘easy route’ or the ‘relevant route’, the resulting qualification is the same.  However the knowledge gained certainly isn’t and it’s important you think long-term.

Decision time

I don’t know for sure if the bar will be raised to QCF Level 6 in the future, but gaining more qualifications can only be a positive move for your career.  It’s up to you which route you take.

I’d love to know, what are your plans for exams in 2015?  Have you stopped at Level 4?  Are you moving forward to Level 6? Which route are you taking and how did you decide on that route and what is your main concern about taking more exams?

Top Tips:

You can get your learning statement by logging into the CII website and requesting it, or call or email them.

Further information about the CII Advanced Diploma in Financial Planning and becoming a Chartered Financial Planner can be found at

QCF Level 6 qualifications are also provided by the IFS in the form of their Diploma in Financial Advice

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