FSA to streamline raft of qualifications

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But some of these exams are likely to disappear and new ones emerge as the whole qualifications structure heads for an overhaul at the hands of the Financial Services Authority (FSA).

For exam bodies and training companies the stakes are high, in the form of lucrative contracts from financial services companies putting tens of thousands of staff through exams every year.

The new environment will start to take shape on December 1, when the FSA assumes its full regulatory powers. It will supersede the three bodies that approve exams at the moment: the Securities and Futures Authority (SFA), the Investment Management Regulatory Organisation (IMRO) and the Personal Investment Authority (PIA).

Training companies such as BPP Hyperion are waiting to see what exams will emerge from the FSA's review, and which ones financial services companies will favour in cases where they have a choice.

Marc King, a director of BPP Hyperion, believes the changes will lead to higher standards as part of a tougher overall regulatory structure.

King says: 'Firms recognise the competitive advantage in having well qualified staff. Many banks will aim higher than the regulator demands, so that they feel confident they are doing all they can and more.

'For individuals too, professional qualifications confer credibility in an insecure market.'

Last year almost 20,000 people sat the FSA's basic competence test, the Registered Persons exam. The Securities Institute had an exclusive mandate to offer the exam. But at the end of November this monopoly will end, and the Securities Institute may eventually find itself competing against other organisations.

The Registered Persons exam is in any case being replaced by a series of Certificates for Approved Persons exams broadly covering the same areas, but reflecting the FSA's new regulatory structure.

Another widely taken exam is the Investment Management Certificate (IMC), offered by the UK Society of Investment Professionals (UKSIP) for fund management staff.

This, too, could now face competition, not least from the Securities Institute, which is awaiting approval of a new Certificate in Investment Management.

All the examining bodies have had to amend their regulatory exams to reflect the new regime. Clare Parkes at the Securities Institute says: 'We've not just been reviewing the content of the exams, but also how we present them to the marketplace.

'With each syllabus will be a set of learning objectives that will give the candidates a much clearer indication of how deep into each subject we expect them to go. This will assist the trainers as well and make the whole system more transparent.'

As the market opens up there may, for a while at least, be an even greater choice of exams.

David Jackman, head of industry training at the FSA, is in charge of the exams overhaul. He says: 'We are conscious of differences in standards, assessment methods and gaps in the exam marketplace which we are looking to rectify. We are aiming for a single qualification structure and one examination framework.'

This will not happen overnight, however. Jackman sees the review taking three to five years as the FSA looks at the competencies required by the industry.

It will do so with an international perspective and has been consulting regulators overseas.

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