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Confusion reigns over adviser education

The government may have promised to move legislation that will lift educational standards for advice newcomers, but there is still little indication about what will be asked of existing advisers.

In its response to the FSI report last month, the government said it will introduce legislation to raise adviser standards by mid-2016 as well as "consult on appropriate transitional arrangements".

When laid out, those details will be crucial for more than half of advisers who, according to ASIC records, do not already hold a bachelor's degree. Records show that out of about 22,000 registered advisers, only around 9,000 have a degree while 1,500 hold a master's degree and 13 hold a PhD or equivalent.

The other 11,000-plus advisers without a degree have earned a range of financial certifications and accreditations – including an advanced diploma in financial planning – with a majority bearing more than one.

It should be noted, however, that there may be some advisers who did not list all of their academic achievements on the ASIC adviser register.

Speaking to ifa, Mark Rantall, chief executive for the Financial Planning Association of Australia, said these figures are not surprising, since the industry had "grown up" without a degree requirement.

However, he added there are other competencies that existing advisers have which should be considered in framing the transitional arrangements.


"We're not supportive of existing financial planners all having to go back and complete undergraduate degree requirements," Mr Rantall said.

"As a guide, the advanced diploma of financial planning is certainly a minimum standard that should be adhered to. [In addition], pathways for a very experienced financial planner would be appropriate.

"The other thing to bear in mind is there is a one-off exam being proposed, so if you've got a level of experience and you complete the one-off exam then that should be adequate," he said.

The exam was recommended by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Services, which also suggested having existing advisers go through a 'Recognised Prior Learning' process that would consider the number of years an adviser has been practising.

That could mean many new entrants would have to return to college in order to meet the new minimum requirements.

Financial services training provider DeakinPrime said in a recent statement that the lack of clarity around transitional arrangements could be enough to drive many advisers out of the industry.

Mr Rantall, however, disagrees.

"This was talked about before, when the FOFA reforms were implemented that there would be a mass exodus and that hasn't happened. In fact, the industry has grown," he said.

"So there's an increasing demand for advice, and the objective should not be to move advisers out of the industry. The objective is to make sure that advisers that are in the industry are adequately qualified to give the advice that's in the best interest of clients."