Independent Financial Advice – Consumer Guide

Qualifications – do your homework

To improve your chances of finding an IFA that matches your requirements, and to be 100% confident that they have a high level of competence in the area you want advice on, it is important to consider an IFA‘s qualifications.

Basic qualifications:

All financial advisers, whether tied or independent, are required by their regulator, theFSA, to hold the Financial Planning Certificate or the Certificate in Financial Planning before they are allowed to provide financial advice. Advisers with these benchmark qualifications are also obliged to keep up with relevant financial developments throughout their career, but in addition many opt to take advanced qualifications.

Advanced qualifications:

An ‘alphabet spaghetti’ list of initials after an adviser’s name does not necessarily mean that much in terms of their advanced training. Sometimes the letters do not even refer to specific qualifications, simply membership of a certain body, so it’s worth asking questions and doing a little homework.

There is a wealth of advanced or incremental qualifications that advisers can take, some covering broad financial knowledge and some focusing on particular product areas, which may be of relevance to your needs. The most popular advanced qualifications for holistic financial advice are the Advanced Financial Planning Certificate (AFPC) and becoming a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) Licensee. Advanced qualifications in pensions include G60 and for investments G70 and the Investment Management Certificate (IMC). Specialist qualifications in mortgages include the Certificate in Mortgage Advice and the Certificate in Mortgage Advice and Practice (CeMAP).

Of course many extremely good and talented IFAs have become so because of their many years’ experience in the industry, not because they chose to obtain an advanced qualification. However, there is often a correlation between a good adviser and a commitment on their part to learn as much as possible about a particular subject and to put this knowledge to the test in exams.

More and more advisers find that having additional qualifications helps them stay ahead of money issues and their financial planning implications, as well as reassuring potential customers like you about their professionalism. Indeed, many awarding bodies insist that to keep those precious letters after their name, advisers must maintain records of continuous professional development (CPD).

If you want more information on IFA qualifications, your IFA can get this from IFA Promotion on your behalf. If you don’t have an IFA, or would like to find this information yourself, you should visit www.unbiased.co.uk. There you can also find details of IFAs who hold any of the most popular advanced qualifications. The website also has links to some of the awarding bodies that set the exams.

Naturally you should look for other qualities in your IFA beyond being super-qualified in the financial areas you want to discuss. You don’t need to be best friends with your adviser, but it helps if you find them approachable, particularly if you hope to establish a long-term relationship. Experience can count for a great deal too, so it’s worth asking how long they have been in business.

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