Professional development should not just be for the sake of ticking a box or being able to stick more letters at the end of your name. It should come from a personal desire to constantly improve within your role and, as in my case, potentially be a vehicle for carving out a career for yourself you never thought possible.
Lots of people will have studied hard for a qualification or exam, passed and then almost instantly forgotten most of the finer details of the subject matter.
Racking up qualifications for the sake of it is therefore not necessarily the only route to professional development. There are some exams I took early on in my career that were done largely to make myself more employable or simply to make my CV look better.
However, when I took the leap into becoming a financial adviser the qualifications started to take on a whole new meaning. Suddenly, the subject matter took on an extra level importance as it was going to be tested on real clients who had faith in my understanding of a topic they often did not.
Learning on the job
My career has been one of constant development. Having not gone to university, my first foray into financial services was with Skandia in 1992, as an administration assistant. As I did not have a university degree to fall back on, professional development has been a key tool for me to further my career.
Gradually through plenty of hard work and additional qualifications, I worked my way to a point where I was working in the technical team providing support to financial advisers. After many more exams and close to a decade of on-the-job experience in the team I decided to try life on the other side of the coin and become a financial planner myself.
My route to becoming a fully fledged financial planner and servicing my own clients was on the slow end of the scale. But by working in so many different roles within financial services I have gained invaluable experience. However, that is not to say my route was the best way into financial advice.
University graduates coming to my new company, Quilter Private Client Advisers (PCA), might on the face of it have a completely contrasting experience to my slower route into financial advice. But they are still positively set on the path to continual professional development from the offset.
If a graduate gets a job with PCA they enter a 14-month training programme, in which they complete their Level 4 through Quilter’s Financial Adviser School. All the time there is an emphasis on experiential learning and old-fashioned book learning.
Once they have completed their Level 4, they can start putting what they have learnt into practice. But it is not long until they are being encouraged to take on their Level 6.
Making progression a clear part of the job helps to make sure advisers do not stagnate. If they do, this can damage the wellbeing of the adviser, which in turn can damage client outcomes.
Due to the introduction of new regulations, new exams or new products, financial advice is a fluid and ever-changing market. As a financial planner, if you fail to keep up, you risk failing to make sure your client gets the best outcome. Saying this, often experience can be worth tenfold what a qualification can.
To get a sense of achievement from a career, it is essential someone can measure their improvement. Sometimes having a certificate showing you have qualified in a new area can be a good indicator of this.
However, extra qualifications are not the be all and end all of professional development as someone with every qualification under the sun could still be a bad financial planner.
Tracy Crookes is a chartered financial planner at Quilter Private Client Advisers