Waltham Pitglow asks if broker exams will be for everyone or just a matter for principals

I was interested to read that the British Insurance Brokers' Association (Biba) recently met up with the Chartered Insurers' Institute (CII) to talk about how brokers might prove competence under the Financial Services Authority (FSA) regulations when they come into force in 2004.

I was shocked to see that one of the options is a qualification that lies between basic introductory tests and the ACII. Surely Biba chief executive Mike Williams is not promoting the idea that one has to take an examination before one can work as a broker (or indeed to keep one's job as a broker)?

Scrap heap
One suspects the CII would love another round of sheep dipping for the 100,000 or more people who are independent intermediaries. There may well be a large number of people who face the scrap heap because they cannot write fast enough or simply go to pieces when they face exams.

The FPC3 examination is as much a test of a financial adviser's competence to apply knowledge and understanding as walking round the M25 is for a tightrope walker.

Before you all start worrying too much, read Williams' comments carefully. He is referring to "principals of broking firms" and in terms of protecting the public it must be sensible that someone responsible for the running of a broking firm should be able to demonstrate a reasonable knowledge and understanding of the role and responsibilities.

Is it really a question of a standard between CIP and ACII (which is approaching degree standard) or perhaps a new qualification that offers a variety of assessment methods? Williams agrees with "no grandfathering" and that must be right if it refers to an initial and ongoing assessment, but what really gets my goat isindustry leaders who make such suggestions and do nothing to improve their own skills.

Not so Mr Williams. Intrepid investigation tells us that he is submitting himself to a demanding exam process to improve his skills for his own role in the business; full marks for street cred there.

Williams is talking sense if he is suggesting those responsible for running broking firms should meet a minimum standard of knowledge.

But if the suggestion is that everyone dealing with the public must pass a time-limited written exam or lose their job then perhaps the FSA should let us know now.

Maintain respect
Losing incompetents from the industry is part and parcel of protecting the public, but treating those with 30 years' experience as schoolchildren is offensive.

Regular assessment of all is vital, but let us remember to maintain some respect for those who, devoid of academic qualification, have spent much of their working lives building a robust and competent service to the public.