CAS: the elephant in the room for newly certified advisers

Competent Adviser Status’ is rarely talked about, according to Amanda Ford, Managing Director at Tenet Financial Services, but is a particular obstacle for new advisers:

Imagine the feeling of receiving your Certificate in Mortgage Advice and Practice (CeMAP) after all those long nights of revising, only to find out you can’t start trading yet. No one told you? Well, you’re not alone.

Time and again, newly certified advisers exit their exam halls, breathing in the air of new opportunity with many thinking they are ready to start their own business, when suddenly they are confronted by the elephant in the room – Competent Adviser Status (CAS).

This hefty obstacle is hard for advisers to get their head around given that many have never even heard of it. But whether you plan to go into an employed or self-employed role you must obtain CAS, and the industry needs to give this greater airtime.

In essence, the CeMAP exam is your driving theory test and achieving CAS comprises your lessons and practical. In the same way that it would be unsafe to let you loose on the roads after only passing your theory, you cannot be expected to give clients sound advice without receiving a practical understanding of the trade.

Finding your instructor

The road to achieving CAS has a few bumps and bends, not least the first step which is to find someone willing to mentor you. This can be tricky, especially during a period where some businesses might be hesitant to expand their head count.

Even at the best of times, opportunities for trainee advisers at independent brokerages don’t come around all too often, especially employed roles. To get around this, you may need to approach local brokers to work on a self-employed basis if they don’t have roles available, but again there is no guarantee.

The bottom line is that many firms are simply not set up to appropriately mentor newly certified advisers to achieve CAS, which requires a training and competence scheme, as well as time and commitment from a dedicated mentor. It’s for this reason many advisers remain trainees years after qualifying, hampering their development and earning ability.

New advisers should seek a firm with a credible Trainee to CAS scheme. Ask them to talk you through the process, how much time you’ll get with your mentor, and how long it’ll take you to achieve CAS. For some firms this can take as little as six months.

The best way to approach prospective mentors is by making the proposition worth investing their time. Map out a clear plan that demonstrates how you propose to build a client base, where will you source your business, and have opportunities already waiting in the wings. Mentoring you will be a significant responsibility so it’s vital to view it as a two way street and be ready to work hard.

Your mentor will guide you through key lessons and assess you on what you have learned so that you can then apply it in a safe and compliant manner. Only after learning from your mentor and achieving CAS will you be qualified to provide advice to clients and submit mortgage applications, without requiring supervision.

The self-employed solution

Although both employed and self-employed advisers must achieve CAS, it is a particularly big obstacle for those wanting to run their own businesses. Often those with eager entrepreneurial spirit find it challenging to be closely observed and guided by a mentor for a long period of time.

One way to get around this is by going self-employed under the banner of an established brand, which means you can effectively run your own business while receiving a similar level of support to an employed adviser, including achieving CAS through a well structured scheme with dedicated mentor support.

However, CAS is not only for industry newcomers. It is a regulatory requirement for firms to review adviser competency on a regular and frequent basis and take appropriate action to ensure that they remain competent for their role. Advisers should have clear criteria relating to ongoing competency assessments, and the process for this is often outlined in a firm’s Training and Competency scheme and framework of Advice Standards.

Facing the elephant in the room head on

The most important message is: don’t be thrown off guard. You may not have been told about CAS, and the industry needs to be more forthcoming about it to new advisers, but heed the advice here – get your ducks in a row and hit the ground running.

The more prepared you are, the quicker and easier you will be able to navigate the CAS journey, pass your practical and be ready to steer your own business on to great things.

Amanda Ford is Managing Director at Tenet Financial Services, the group’s franchise route for self-employed advisers.

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