Over the past 18 months, as the implementation of the FASEA standards has gained pace, I have had numerous conversations with financial advisers, accountants and stockbrokers who are beside themselves with fear – fear of not passing an exam, fear of not having a career, and fear of professional uncertainty if they do not meet the overall FASEA education requirements.
I have had advisers, with decades of experience, on the phone with me, in tears, about what the future holds and a sense of disbelief that their entire career is being defined by an exam. This is especially frustrating as many advisers, who have sat the exam, have expressed their concerns about how the exam questions have been constructed and the inconsistent execution of the exam through the remote proctoring service.
Looking for support in a sea of uncertainty
Advisers will often make first contact with me after having sat the exam and failed. Many ask, “Why can’t I pass the exam?” I’ve got 20+ years’ experience and provide excellent advice to my clients, many of whom have been with me for years”.
I enquire in response, “How committed are you to passing the exam?”
The response I get is along the lines, “I have to pass the exam, otherwise I lose my business”.
Advisers are looking at the outcome, not the process involved to attain the outcome. For many sitting the FASEA Exam, they are yet to fully embrace it. They see the exam as a “necessary evil” they must endure.
Many advisers have expressed a sense of being targeted by an uncaring regulatory body in the form of FASEA. Many see the changes being forced upon them as unfair and without merit. I genuinely believe that, up until mid 2019, there was a high expectation within the broader advice industry that the FASEA Standards would be watered down, making the changes more palatable and attainable.
In recent months, I have noticed a shift in conversations from resentment to resignation. Resignation that the changes imposed by the FASEA Standards will not be amended and that the exam must be passed, or individuals will be removed from the industry. Many advisers are having to decide about their professional future.
Preparing for the exam
When an adviser reaches out to learn more about our FASEA Exam Prep Programs, the conversation often begins with, “I don’t know how to start preparing for the FASEA Exam. There’s so much to read and it’s mind-numbing”. Many advisers have not sat an exam in over 20 years. On top of that, they are running their own small business, are time poor, overburdened by compliance obligations, whilst trying to squeeze in some sort of personal life.
Advisers, accountants, and stockbrokers who are fairing best are those taking their preparation seriously. They have put in place a structured approach. They are not fighting the validity of the exam, but rather are embracing it, even if begrudgingly. These advisers understand what is within their control, and what is not. They may not agree with what is being asked of them, but they understand it must be completed if they wish to remain in the industry.
For some, the exam allows them to remain in the industry while they weigh up their options regarding the higher education requirements which must be completed by 31st December 2025. For others, the exam is one step on the pathway towards meeting the FASEA standards as they remain focused on a successful career in the financial advice industry.
Embracing the challenge
As we are now well and truly in to 2021, advisers from more specialised backgrounds are attempting the exam. Stockbrokers, accountants, and insurance-only advisers realise they have a maximum of three attempts left in 2021 (including the exam sitting in March).
For advisers from more specialised backgrounds, having a preparation that includes a broader understanding of the personal advice process and obligations is imperative. The FASEA Exam is based on a broad range of hypothetical client scenarios and for many specialised advisers such scenarios will be completely foreign.
Personal Exam Strategy – tips and insights
The exam is a moment-in-time assessment. It should not, and does not, define your worth as an adviser.
Insights from successful exam participants support the fact it is important to have a Personal Exam Strategy going into the exam. The top tips in developing an effective Personal Exam Strategy include:
- Give yourself time to prepare – this varies between individuals; however, our experience indicates anywhere from 6-8 weeks is ideal.
- Have a structured reading plan to familiarise yourself with the three core knowledge areas.
- Watch the FASEA Exam video to familiarise yourself with the exam platform, the style of questions, and the open book resources you may have access to.
- Practice the “Control + f” search function within documents.
- Take practice exams – FASEA offers one, and there are other online practice exam providers such as myIntegrity in Practice. It’s one of the most effective ways to be “exam ready”.
Plan your “exam day attack”:
- Be mindful you have 15 minutes reading time and 195 minutes of exam time.
- Are you going to answer each question off the top of your head and then come back to cross-check those you are unsure of using the open book resources?
- Will you answer the “stand alone” questions first in the hope of nailing these and then focus on the scenario-based questions?
- Read the questions and exam scenarios carefully to understand the intent of the question. In the case of short answer questions, provide responses that directly answer the question. Use bullet points if the question asks for “two recommendations” or “two advantaged/disadvantages”.
The implications are significant; however, it is important you have a plan and remain calm. Seek to understand the intent of each question and use common sense.
And most of all, good luck.