The 2016 Professional Standards of Financial Advisers bill, in combination with the policies of the Financial Adviser Standards and Ethics Authority (FASEA), will change the landscape for financial planners immeasurably. One major outcome is the likely requirement for all current planners to undertake further postgraduate study.
For some planners, this will be a first foray into degree-level education. For most others, it will mean returning to study after a lengthy break. This month’s Industry Insights is the final instalment in a pair of articles on how to survive, and then thrive, in your studies. To read part 1 on determining your study needs, choosing a provider and preparing to study, click here.
wealthdigital’s Technical Manager, Rob Lavery, also offers his insights into the challenges of returning to higher education after a significant break. Rob has just experienced this first-hand, and completed his Graduate Diploma in Financial Planning last year while working towards his Masters.
I entered the financial services industry in 2001 after what can best be described as an unfocused first attempt at university (for the record, I didn’t quite get through a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Music – although I did get to know the university bar rather well). I started studying my Diploma of Financial Services while working for a planner that specialised in insurance advice, then completed it, and my advanced diploma, after moving into the technical team at ING.
In 2014, having decided I was ready to study again, I enrolled in a Bachelor of Science by distance through UNE in Armidale. I found studying in a university environment much more engaging the second time around, although the processes and requirements of academia did come as a bit of a shock. Distance education also threw up challenges of its own, but this experience set me in good stead when it became clear in 2016 that I would need to attain higher qualifications in financial planning.
4. Reading and researching
When providing advice to a client, it is essential that you conduct adequate research to ensure the strategies and products you recommend meet their needs. In fact, the safe harbour steps that can be used to meet the Best Interests Duty include the requirement to conduct a reasonable investigation when providing product advice. Your study is no different – you need to perform your research in order to submit good assignments and perform well on exams.
wealthdigital has launched a new study hub to help subscribers with their studies. The hub is divided into study subjects and provides internal and external links and tools that can be used to research rules, model client outcomes and research source materials.
Researching for assessments
A major difference between vocational study (such as a diploma or advanced diploma), and academic study (such as a graduate diploma or masters), is the need cite sources in your assessment submissions. When studying for a bachelor’s degree or higher, it is not enough to say that a fact exists and be correct, you are obligated to reference a reliable source that supports that fact’s accuracy. It is also not enough to use the course notes as your source – you need to demonstrate that you can perform research.
There is virtually no opinion or fact that isn’t supported by a page on the internet. Take this page dedicated to the claim that gravity doesn’t exist. This raises an issue – that your research can’t reference just any source. It needs to be reliable.
The most academically robust way to source supporting evidence for a particular trend or finding is by citing research papers. There are many ways to find such articles and one good place to start is by using Google Scholar. It is important to note that not all articles on Google Scholar are publicly available – you may need to pay for the rights to read the full article. In most cases, it is important that the study you are citing is peer-reviewed.
Peer-reviewing is the evaluation of a study or paper by one or more people of a similar competence and professional standing as the author. wealthdigital’s study tools page includes links to a number of peer-reviewed finance journals that may provide the source information you need.
If your assertion is just that a certain rate or threshold is a certain amount, you just need to find a reliable supporting source such as the regulator or wealthdigital’s library.
Many education providers will give you a list of potential source materials either as a stand-alone document, or in the references section at the back of the subject notes. This list is another valuable resource when you conduct your research
The best way to keep a track of the research you have performed is to note the source of your information in your assessment as you write it. You can either use “comments” from the “review” menu, or make an in-text notation, to make sure that you can find your source again when you start the process of tidying up your references.
Undertaking study at a bachelor’s degree or postgraduate qualification requires a specific writing style and syntax. There are a number of useful links on wealthdigital’s study tools page which are worth having on hand when you are undertaking written assessments. These include:
- The University of Melbourne’s “Voice in Academic writing”. This is a two-page summary of the key things to watch out for when writing academically. It is worth reviewing before you start your written assignments.
- The University of Manchester’s “Academic Phrasebank”. This is one to have on hand as you write your assignments. It gives sentence templates for a wide range of academic purposes and is terrific for sharpening your phrasing.
It is of crucial importance when you are uncertain about any element of your study to talk to the course lecturer, tutor or convenor. This is particularly the case when constructing written assessments as not all questions are clear, and you need to know you are addressing the correct issues.
If you are studying face-to-face, it should be easy enough to pose your questions to your tutor or lecturer. If you are studying by distance, you are usually provided with the contact details for the course convenor, an online forum in which questions are addressed, or both.
From a distance
Unlike face-to-face study, you are unlikely to get instant answers to your questions when studying by distance. You need to factor this into your study processes and there are a few ways in which this can be done:
- Don’t leave things to the last minute. It is unreasonable to expect the course convenor to be watching the online forums at 10pm when the assessment is due at midnight. The way to avoid having questions go unanswered is to ask them when you have plenty of time to incorporate the convenor’s response into your assessment.
- Review your assessments for potential issues BEFORE you start to write your answers. You don’t want to set aside four hours to kick-off your assessment response only to find that, when you read the assessment, you find it unclear and need to ask a question. Craft the framework for your response, and scan the assignment for any ambiguities, before you sit down to write your answers.
- Read all the forum answers. If something is unclear, there is the chance someone has already asked the question. Even if you don’t have any specific questions, scan the forums for tips from the course convenor.
- Don’t get frustrated if the course convenor doesn’t directly answer your query. They are usually toeing a thin line between clarifying the assessment question and not giving you the assessment answer in totality. Sometimes you will need to read between the lines of the convenor’s response.
I became a more frequent user of the online forums as I progressed through my distance courses. More often than not, I didn’t quite get the answer I was looking for but usually was given some indication as to the right approach.
A prime example was when an assessment asked me to outline how a client’s income and assets would be assessed when determining their age pension entitlement. The answer was allocated a guide of 500 words but wealthdigital’s library had more than 10,000 words on the topic. What should I exclude?
I gave the convenor a list of potential sub-topics and asked them which ones I should include and exclude. Unsurprisingly, they didn’t give me an answer that prescriptive but told me, in essence, not to get lost in the weeds when writing my answer. After stewing for a bit, I decided to just keep my view broad and my answer was marked strongly.
Word limits in assignments can be a problem from two angles – either you can’t fit what you want to say beneath them, or you can’t find enough to say to reach them. Either problem can cause study stress.
If you cannot find enough words to meet a word limit, the only thing you need to check is that you haven’t failed to address a major issue required by the question. If you have addressed all the issues posed by the question in sufficient detail and are still below the word limit, the marker will probably be pleased with your answer. After reading the same thing 15 times during a session of marking, they will likely be impressed by your succinct response.
If you are wildly overshooting your word limits, you need to revisit your responses and determine:
- How you can say what you want to say in a more condensed fashion, and
- What points you have brought up that don’t need to be addressed.
Most word limits have a 10% leeway, but exceed this significantly and you may find the marker cuts your response off where it hits the limit. With this in mind, you need to make sure your key points are at the start of your answer and any greater detail or discussion is at the end.
Find a reviewer / buddy
Nothing is more valuable when you are constructing written assignments than having them reviewed by another person. While it is important to review your own work, it is easy to miss errors as we have a tendency to read what we intended to write, rather than the actual words.
The best solution is to find another person who is studying the same course, and ideally the same subjects, to review your work. They will be able to review your work not just for clarity, but also for accuracy and completeness. If you are studying face-to-face, ask another student at your lectures. If you are studying by distance, post on the forums to see if anyone would like to review your work if you review theirs.
After asking a few questions on the forums, I started to see a trend of fellow students reaching out to chat to me. To my surprise, on more than one occasion a fellow student sent me a personal message through Linkedin. After chatting for a while, I managed to set up reciprocal reviewing arrangements with a couple of these new contacts.
Even if you cannot find someone studying your course to help review your work, having a layperson reviewer read through it is still of value. Particularly in financial planning, your explanations need to be understood by non-experts and a layperson can help you iron out any parts that are confusing or hard to read.
Lastly, if you cannot find anyone to review your work, make sure you read it aloud when you review it yourself. Reading written work aloud is a good way to bring your attention to sections that are awkward or clumsily phrased
The bedfellow of research is referencing. The bane of many a student’s life, the reality is that if you source your information from another author in an assignment, you need to give them credit for it.
There are few things more galling than losing significant marks in an assignment for poor referencing but the flipside is that, if you commit a little bit of time to do it right, those marks are easily won. wealthdigital’s study tools page has links to a number of handy referencing assistants, such as the University of Mebourne’s re:cite.
The key to getting referencing right is to note where you have used external sources as you write your assignment, then to allocate sufficient time to tidy up your references and get them right before you hand it in. Half an hour won’t be enough, particularly if your assignment is 3000 words or more. Make sure you allow yourself a couple of hours to really get your references right both in the text, and on the references page.
Different education providers will use different styles of referencing. Make sure you know the style required in your course. Furthermore, how you reference varies depending on the type of document you are referencing.
Example of a couple of common styles for a wealthdigital site are provided below.
If you used wealthdigital’s super facts and figures, your referencing would be:
In text – (wealthdigital 2018)
In the reference list – wealthdigital 2018, Super Facts and Figures, viewed 1 November 2018, < http://www.strategysteps.com.au/content/5965-super-facts-and-figures>
In text – (“Super Facts and Figures,” 2018)
In the reference list – Super Facts and Figures. (2018, June). Retrieved from http://www.strategysteps.com.au/content/5965-super-facts-and-figures
7. Exam preparation and technique
Preparing for exams can be a daunting experience, particularly if it has been some time since you last studied. The reality is that, with a national exam for all new and existing advisers being part of the Professional Standards of Financial Advisers bill, there will be no way to avoid exams. So, how do you best prepare for one?
Know what the exam covers
It is an obvious point but you need to check which sub-topics will be covered by your exam. Not all exams will cover all sub-topics in a subject and your time needs to be concentrated on those that are examinable.
When looking at financial planning topics, make sure you know what time-period the rates and thresholds used in the exam will relate to. The current rates and thresholds won’t always be used so make sure you know which set will be.
Make specific notes
When reviewing the course materials before your exam, create a small set of notes that cover areas you have trouble remembering. Particularly when you are studying an area that you work in full-time, some parts of the text should be part of your existing knowledge base. Other parts may not be so present in your day-to-day work and it is these parts that you should revise in the greatest depth.
Some exams will allow you to take in a certain quantity of written notes. You need to commit the time to prepare these notes carefully as they will be invaluable to you. Spend time organising your notes so that important information is easily discovered and not lost in a mass of writing on the page. Use multiple pen colours to highlight specific topics.
Attend the lectures, read the forums
If you are studying face-to-face, the weeks before an exam are a terrible time to miss a lecture or tutorial. This is the time when you are most likely to get tips and traps from your lecturers and tutors and you need to be there to benefit from them.
If you are studying by distance, make sure you read the online forums intensely in the days before an exam. Again, this is the best time to pick up exam-specific information from your course convenor.
Do the practice exams
If your education provider allows access to previous years’ exams, or practice exams, they are worth doing. Practice exams shouldn’t be the sum total of your exam preparation but they are an important part.
It is worth doing at least one practice exam under exam conditions – particularly if you haven’t sat an exam for a while. The opportunity to simulate an exam scenario is invaluable in helping control your nerves on the day itself.
There is no perfect exam technique but the tips below may help you concentrate your time and efforts.
- Know what you are allowed to take into the exam and take advantage of it. If you can take a calculator, buy a good one and use it. If you can bring notes, do so.
- Read the questions carefully. This can be hard to do when you are pressured for time but you won’t be able to provide the right answer if you can’t interpret the question clearly.
- Pick off the questions you are confident of first. You can always mark answers you need to return to in the exam paper or answer paper. It is important not to get bogged down on a tricky question early and run out of time to answer the easy ones.
- With multiple choice questions, try to provide your own answer before considering the options. If you provide and answer and it aligns, you can be fairly confident you’ve got it right. That said, a well written exam will include options that would have been reached through incorrect logic.
- Never leave a question blank if you have time. Even if you don’t feel confident, some sort of answer stands a chance of scoring a mark or two that would otherwise go begging.
- If you are running out of time, finish your answers in point form. If there are still short and long-form questions to address and you don’t think you have enough time, writing key points may earn you some marks. It is better than leaving a question blank.
- Don’t be afraid to write commentary on your answer. If you have time, don’t be afraid to explain to the marker why you have answered a question a certain way. This may be particularly valuable if you feel the question could be interpreted multiple ways or you are basing your answer on a premise that you suspect may be slightly off (such as a misremembered threshold).
8. Seeking feedback and setting expectations
The wait for exam and assignment results can seem interminable. Whether you are confident of a good result, or are nervous about a bad result, it’s hard not to keep checking to see if they have arrived.
When they arrive, your results may trigger a range of reactions. Oftentimes the marker’s feedback on an assignment will not be detailed enough to truly understand, in mark-by-mark detail, where you went wrong (or where you were right). It is becoming increasingly common for education providers to give no feedback on an exam other than your mark.
Wanting greater feedback, and feeling the drive to challenge the marker, is normal. It is also not a bad thing – it often stems from the same factors that make a competitive person successful. That said, it may cause more stress than is helpful when you have a busy life. You need to work out when seeking further feedback is helpful, and when it is just adding another task and another stress into your already busy life.
While I wasn’t very driven at university the first time around, I do have a competitive nature. Decades of playing sport, some of it at a decent level, reflect a desire to be judged as the best, or at the very least, as good.
One thing that surprised me when I returned to higher education was my drive to get top marks. The reality was that I had a lot on my plate – work, family, volunteering – and it was unreasonable to expect I could dedicate the time to every subject to get top results. I also began to find it a waste of emotional energy to challenge every assignment mark – particularly when I had passed.
After a while I had to temper my expectations and be satisfied with putting in a good effort for a reasonable result that would allow me to keep progressing in my industry.
9. Study and Continuing Professional Development (CPD)
Another of FASEA’s responsibilities under the Professional Standards of Financial Advisers bill is setting the CPD framework for all advisers. FASEA has already consulted on their potential approach, and, amongst the headline grabbing suggestion of a 50-hour a year requirement, was some good news.
FASEA has proposed that formal education to obtain tertiary qualifications could constitute up to half an adviser’s CPD hours in a year. FASEA has also proposed that professional reading (such as reading wealthdigital’s content) could count for 7.5 hours of CPD per year. This means that undertaking your required higher education could effectively kill two birds with one stone by also meeting a significant portion of your CPD requirements.
It is also worth considering whether you continue study beyond that which is mandated by the new rules. Once you have established your rhythm of study, it may be worthwhile continuing to do a subject or more of higher education a year in planning-related fields. You can use it to help meet your CPD requirements and to deepen your knowledge of your chosen field.
Everyone’s experience of study will be different. Some parts of your chosen course may seem dull or unnecessary given your previous professional experience while others may give you a new perspective on financial planning. Enjoy the new learnings and take advantage of those sections you already know. Both give positive outcomes, whether it is meeting your regulatory requirements, or expanding your knowledge.
The key is to not leave it until the last minute. Starting your study sooner will allow you more time to complete your course and make it easier to fit around your life. Battle through the hard early weeks and you’ll find that it naturally becomes a regular part of your schedule.
wealthdigital is working to provide you with the tools and resources you need to succeed in your studies. Have a look through the study hub and carefully sourced study tools to familiarise yourself with what is available. wealthdigital will continue to expand the available resources in the future, so it is always worth checking for new additions.