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If you’re studying for tertiary qualifications this year, what are the options? Explore how financial planning education is evolving and what you should consider when choosing an education pathway and provider.
As 2020 drew to a close, the government announced their decision to wind up the Financial Advice Standards and Education Authority (FASEA). As a body established to set the education, training and ethical standards for financial planners in Australia, FASEA introduced sweeping changes to the education pathways and qualifications required for financial planners to become licensed professionals.
While some financial planners have yet to meet new standards, the transfer of FASEA’s regulatory responsibilities to ASIC should not change these requirements. According to current policy and legislation all financial planners will need to pass the FASEA exam by 1 January 2022. Those already in practice have until 2026 to complete an approved tertiary qualification to continue working as a licensed financial planner.
With ASIC taking over from FASEA, there may be some changes yet to come in the exact requirements for these tertiary qualifications. This makes it all the more important for financial planners to choose carefully when selecting their tertiary course of study and education provider.
This changeover from FASEA to ASIC is just one factor students will need to take into account when planning their pathway to a tertiary qualification in the coming year. With restrictions on learning activities introduced due to COVID-19, the last 12 months have seen many changes to the education experience for students and educators.
In his role as Course Director of the Master of Financial Planning at Swinburne University, Dr Reza Tajaddini has seen everyone in their learning community step up to the challenges presented by COVID restrictions. “The inevitable shift to online delivery in 2020 in a week and without any notice was challenging for both educators and students,” he says. “As educators, we needed to develop new content and redesign the delivery methods, ensuring the unit learning outcomes were still delivered and the accredited assessments were properly assessed.
“Students had to quickly adjust to the new methods of learning. They had to rely more on self-learning techniques and watch recorded videos instead of attending face-to-face lectures. We provided live interaction opportunities for students relying on digital technologies, such as weekly live collaboration sessions. At Swinburne we had the advantage of having a strong history with online learning and enjoyed an infrastructure and experience that enabled us to embrace this pedagogical method effectively,” he adds.
This is something Associate Professor Sharon Taylor also found to be the case for their financial planning courses at Western Sydney University (WSU). Sharon is Associate Professor at the university’s School of Business and also chairs the Financial Planning Education Council (FPEC). “At WSU we’ve been teaching postgraduate students online for the last 20 years,” she says. “So the demands of supporting students with remote learning are not new. We’ve long been able to meet all accreditation requirements for students learning online and it’s always been a case of ensuring we deliver education and outcomes to an optimal standard rather than the minimum.”
According to Reza, circumstances created by COVID have actually led to a better learning environment for many Swinburne students. “To a large extent, we found that students’ engagement remained high during the year,” he says. “Many students found more time for study due to less social distractions. While some students clearly missed the face-to-face interactions with their educators and peers, many took the opportunities online delivery provided.”
More time for technology
While flexibility and commitment from institutions like Swinburne and WSU has been essential to delivering a high quality learning experience during COVID, new technologies are playing an equally vital role. “While the online delivery platforms have their own challenges, we are committed to providing alternative learning opportunities that mimic the face-to-face educational experience,” says Reza. “For example, we delivered weekly collaboration sessions where students and lecturers meet in a virtual space and discuss their unit content and feedback. We also use discussion forums, webinars, online quizzes and Adobe Creative Cloud to create a seamless learning experience.
“Most importantly, students have the peace of mind that their lecturers are accessible, and they can always send their enquiries to their lecturers via emails, Canvas messages or the Microsoft Teams app. In some instances teaching staff would conduct online meetings with individual students when they needed personal feedback. Other colleagues provide feedback with personalised voice or video recorded messages to ensure any concepts students are struggling with are explained in the most coherent way.”
This focus on using the right technologies also extends to the course content delivered to financial planning students. Experience with digital tools students will be using day-to-day in a future role is an important part of any course curriculum. Reza suggests students should look for this course component when comparing options.
“It is inevitable that financial planners will rely on sophisticated financial planning technologies and software to deliver comprehensive advice,” he says. “At Swinburne we are committed to preparing our graduate with the required knowledge. We have dedicated units focused on financial advice technologies and we embed financial planning software, such as XPlan, in several of our units.”
Support for mid-career professionals
A solid grounding in popular financial planning technologies is a key learning area for students new to the profession. However, many students balancing the demands of their coursework with a current financial planning role will prioritise a high level of flexibility and support from their education provider. At WSU, Sharon and her colleagues are very much aware of this need and careful to ensure courses are structured and designed in a way that suits students in full or part-time employment.
“Most of our students do one unit a quarter and can finish their Graduate Diploma in two years and their Masters in three,” she says. “During this time they can do all their tutorials after business hours so they don’t have to sacrifice time at work for these online sessions. They get all course materials up front so they can take the assessments at their own pace, providing they meet the lodgement dates. They have access to an online portfolio where they can answer shorter and multiple choice questions as they to spread out their assessment tasks over time. As well as keeping them on track, this approach gives them a great way to practice for their FASEA exam.”
Courses structured around full-time work commitments are also an important priority at Swinburne. “For postgraduate students most of the classes are offered in three hour blocks and in the evenings,” says Reza. “We also offer intensive delivery for FASEA bridging units where classes are held over three weekends every fortnight. For financial planning firms sponsoring their employees we also offer business packages with special fee discount and flexible timetables to align with the requirements of the company.”
Studying with a provider who can formally recognise the knowledge and experience financial planners already have can also lighten the load for students juggling assignments and a job. “WSU offer Challenge exams to acknowledge the industry experience of financial planning professionals,” says Sharon. “If you’ve been practising for the last five years or more, you’re able to do the assessment and final exam without all the tutorials. Not only does this save time, it also significantly reduces the cost to the student.”
A flexible, holistic approach
Whether students are studying full-time or part-time, online or face-to-face, a flexible and supportive learning environment plays a big part in a positive experience and successful outcome. A multi-disciplinary delivery approach can make a significant difference to how engaged students are with their course and the range of skills they develop alongside their knowledge.
“It’s important for students to consider how they’ll learn when looking at education providers,” says Sharon. “At WSU we offer many different types of assessments, including role plays, presentation, group assignments and interviews. This is an important way of guiding our students to develop skills as well as testing their knowledge and application of the course content. It also gives people more opportunities to play to their strengths in how they learn and how they express their ideas. Whether they’re strong in verbal or written communication, in one-on-one conversations or speaking to a larger group, they can show us what they’re good at and have chances to improve in areas where they’re less confident.”
A holistic education approach, that provides broader support for the challenges of tertiary education, and life in general, can also help keep students focussed on achieving their goals without impacting their health and wellbeing. “WSU are a provider who can offer all sorts of support for mature age students, whether for the administrative demands of their studies or for research skills, essay writing or any other skills they need to complete assignments,” says Sharon. “They have access to academic co-ordinators to talk to on a regular basis about what’s involved. There are also course advisers, librarians and counsellors they can reach out to. We have a whole range of educators and support staff who will be in regular contact with them. They may be doing their course online but we have the commitment and resources to make sure they don’t ever feel alone in their learning experience and provide value and support at all times.”
It’s certainly important for education providers to create a nurturing environment where their students can thrive. However, it’s also vital for their learning experience to be grounded in the realities graduates will face as the financial planning profession grapples with ongoing regulatory change and other challenges. “Financial planners are constantly dealing with uncertainty,” says Sharon. “It can be hard for our students to prepare for a future where they don’t know what will be required of them. This is why we make it a priority to keep customising our courses to deliver what the profession needs.
“Choosing an institution that’s in touch with the profession should also be an important consideration for prospective students. Team members from WSU regularly talk to licensees and attend their professional development days and conferences and we’re also in contact with many individual financial planners. We provide opportunities for our students to connect with the profession too, such as taking part in the AMP challenge and access to Striver to organise their work placements.”
Reza agrees that it’s important to help students prepare for their career by building networks and understanding what opportunities are available in their chosen profession. “At Swinburne we offer several events during each study period that provide networking and skills development opportunities for students,” he says. “These include our Learning from Entrepreneurs series, Career Weeks and Innovation Precinct Masterclasses. We also encourage students to participate in several industry events such as Financial Planning Association (FPA) roadshows and their Annual Congress event.”
Commitment to professional excellence
To get even more value from their tertiary studies, Reza also recommends students look at courses that can offer them more than a tick in the box for their educationaI requirements. “I suggest students look for other aspects of educational programs that add value to their qualifications,” he says. “For example, Swinburne students can study financial planning and accounting courses in a single program. These programs, which carry several industry accreditations (e.g. CPA Australia, CAANZ, ACCA, FASEA, FPA), enable financial planning graduates to incorporate accounting and tax knowledge in their advice. This gives a competitive edge to graduates in the job market.
“Some universities, including Swinburne, are offering a Master of Financial Planning which is integrated with the CFP Certification Program offered by the FPA. This is a very practical ‘value-add’ that enables graduates to distinguish themselves among their peers and provides them with a unique educational experience. At postgraduate level, a Swinburne graduate can obtain three highly recognised qualifications after only two years of study (Master of Financial Planning + Master of Professional Accounting + CFP Designation).
Sharon also believes it’s important for prospective students to see their qualification as critical to their professional standing and reputation. “This an important time to show we are professionals,” she says. “Graduates who have achieved more than the minimum standard of education send a clear message that they’re investing in professional development because they want to do a better job for their clients. Being a successful financial planners is about constantly learning and staying ahead of the regulatory requirements so you can be seen and measured as a true professional.”
What to expect from your education provider
To help you narrow down your options for tertiary education, the FPA offers a quick comparison chart, giving you an overview of postgraduate financial planning courses and qualifications on offer from 15 education providers across Australia. This is available at https://learn.fpa.com.au
Here’s a quick summary of other things to look for when choosing your postgraduate course and provider:
1. A seamless study experience
Whether delivered exclusively online, or through a blend of face-to-face and online components, your course of study should offer a well-designed learning experience, supported by suitable technologies, course materials and a wide range of assessment methods.
2. Outstanding learning support
A responsive team providing comprehensive academic, administrative and wellbeing support will help you stay on track and recommend suitable strategies for challenges you may be facing during your studies e.g. time management, research skills and more.
3. Tools of the trade
More and more fintech and regtech solutions are becoming available to help financial planners offer a more streamlined, high quality advice experience. Make sure your course includes opportunities to learn or upgrade your capability in using the latest financial planning technologies.
4. Connect with your industry
Choose a provider offering industry experience and networking opportunities as an integrated part of their education program. These provide important insights into how the profession operates and how it is changing.
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