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


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

  • I agree with one thing, level 6 is likely to become the minimum acceptable qualification in years to come.

    You mention relevant exams, but appear to have missed the exam I believe to be the most relevant and value to clients, which is the IFP Certification.

    To use a Golf analogy, Chartered for show, CFP for dough.

  • I agree it’s inevitable Level 6 will become the minimum in time as well. Ian has already mentioned CFP, but what about the ‘killer combo’ of Chartered and CFP; advanced technical knowledge and a trusted consumer label from Chartered, and competence following a powerful process from CFP. It also helps that passing CFP delivers credits towards Chartered status.

    • Does sound like the killer combo and CFP helps towards Chartered which is always a bonus…..

  • Hi Ian,

    Good point about the IFP Certification.

    Interesting comment ‘Chartered for show, CFP for dough’. Definitely agree that to have the word ‘Chartered’ is something that looks good but why do you think the CFP is for dough and Chartered isn’t? I’d be interested to know.

    • Hi Catriona

      You can “buy in” Chartered with a good paraplanner and the client is none the wiser.

      You cannot “buy in” the skills that the IFP epromote, so if the adviser doesn’t have them the client doesn’t benefit from them, which could potentially lead to less referrals and less sticky clients. It doesn’t matter how technically qualified you are, if you can’t diagnose the problem in the first place it is wasted.

      Have a look at a comment I made on this post

      • Hi Ian

        Not being an adviser myself but being in contact with many of all shapes and sizes, it’s interesting to hear the view that you can ‘buy in’ Chartered. I hadn’t thought of that possibility. It’s like taking the ‘easier’ exams to gain the necessary additional credits for Level 6 rather than the most relevant exams.

        I like your GP analogy…. might have to use that myself!

  • This relates to yesterday’s article and, whether you agree or not, I think the comments so far show that just being adequate is not good enough (or won’t be for much longer).

    I don’t know about anyone else, but I think advisers/planners should WANT to aim higher than level 4. I want to be able to deliver the best advice possible to my clients. For that reason, I was FPFS and CFP before I was Chartered and I still want to learn more now.

    A lot of our knowledge comes from experience, we all learn as we go and you could argue that it is the best way to do it, but if you don’t have the technical knowledge to start with, how are you going to apply it to your client’s plan? It’s often a case of having to brush up on some of the technical stuff if it isn’t something that you deal with every day, but there’s nothing wrong with that.

    Even though exams are not everything, I believe they are very important.

    I very much agree with Martin’s comment – having both IFP and PFS certifications is the ideal combination.

    • Hi Eva,

      During the run-up to the RDR Level 4 deadline we heard from many advisers who couldn’t believe they were being forced to sit more exams and were clearly quite angry about it. If someone has been an adviser for many, many years and are then asked to take more exams in order to keep their job, it must be a difficult pill to swallow. And I do understand the argument that some exams involve memorising stuff that you normally would look up in a book anyway so does seem a bit daft. However, overall it’s so important that advisers keep up-to-date knowledge-wise and the best way (some may disagree) of measuring that is via exams. There has to be some solid measure.

      Over the past year or so I’ve seen a steady increase of customers deciding to move forward and achieve Level 6. That can only be a positive and I’m afraid others will just be left behind when the time – almost inevitably – comes when Level 6 is the requirement.

  • One thing I think should change is the emphasis on exams. I dont think that the old style exams which we take are a good way of assessing competence.
    I should say that I am good at exams, and have always been happy to take advantage of the extra marks I get from having a good short term memory, and good technique. Many exams seem to be a test of the neatness and speed of your handwriting – I’m so used to typing on a computer now that I find two hours of handwriting (literally) painful.
    I think I get better marks in exams than I would in real life.
    There are some exam type situations in real life – clients want yot to be able to answer certain questions on the spot. But real life often involves looking something up, checking with a colleague, starting with one solution in your head, then realising that a different option is better.
    Exams dont test this.
    If we are to improve standards, the professional bodies need to work on more “real life” tests. IFP came close, although they do need to work out how to allow people to type their answers in the exam rather than handwrite.

    • Hi Philip,

      Measuring knowledge is a difficult one and I totally agree with your points. Too many exams are a test of memory and there are plenty of things you would just look up. MCQ exams are definitely easier on your hand, and I don’t see why long-answer exams can’t be modernised so that they can be typed too. People just don’t handwrite essays anymore!

      Some would argue that open-book exams are the way forward. However that doesn’t really test knowledge – I always felt (when I did such exams at Uni many moons ago) that they only really tested how well you knew the layout of your books so you could find the knowledge required quickly. I loved open book exams because they didn’t require much study beforehand!

      Maybe a mixture of the two with the standard exam-style testing for things that arguably you SHOULD know off the top of your head, and certainly understanding concepts, but open-book for other things?

      What do you think?

      • I agree – we definitely need exams and open book.
        I’m in the middle of my CFP stuff, having done the exam (I think that the knowledge test was tougher than it should have been), but I think that the case study assessment is a good test of my skills (I might say otherwise when I get my results!).
        There does need to be a halfway house too – it’s unlikely that I would do a complex calculation of income tax/cashflow with an exam type deadline (I might have a meeting coming up, but I would like to think I would be well prepared in advance!), and without asking for help. I would think that it should be possible to have a test delivered to your work station with, say a deadline of a day to submit the answers would be a reasonable alternative.

  • I would have to agree that moving forward level 6 will become the norm for the majority of the adviser/planner community.

    I also believe that the elite planners (& there is a hint of sarcasm in that) will need to move to level 7 or 8 (MSC/PhD). If the majority of those pushing level 6 now as a differentiator do not move onwards, they will over time become part of the crowd.


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