More financial advisors are working toward higher designations and credentials during the pandemic as they take advantage of a greater number of courses available online and extra time that they would’ve spent commuting to the office.
Sanjay Gupta, a financial securities advisor with Desjardins Financial Security Investments Inc. in Surrey, B.C., says COVID-19 has also provided him and other advisors an opportunity to think about how to further refine their skills.
“I strongly believe that the pandemic made everybody go soul-seeking, trying to find out what was missing,” he says.
Mr. Gupta already holds the certified financial planner (CFP) certification, which he earned in India, but decided to use this time to further upgrade his knowledge and add value to his practice by studying for an additional professional qualification.
Specifically, he opted for the new professional financial advisor designation, which Advocis, the Financial Advisors Association of Canada, launched earlier this year and focuses on practice development, technical knowledge, compliance and ethics.
Although starting a designation during the pandemic meant reading the course materials at home and connecting with the professor and other students virtually, Mr. Gupta says the format has worked well in terms of being both accessible and interactive.
After an initial drop in new registrations at the start of the COVID-19 lockdown, as advisors adapted to working from home and spent extra time calling concerned clients, there has subsequently been a marked increase in interest for several of Advocis’s online webinars, courses and designation programs, says Barbara Riddell, vice-president, education and membership, for the organization.
“Many advisors remain committed to professional development and [are] taking advantage of the time gained from potentially not having to commute or to go out to client meetings ... to further develop their knowledge and skill set,” she says.
In particular, Advocis noticed significant interest among advisors for the chartered life underwriter (CLU) designation, which is for individuals who wish to specialize in life insurance and estate planning. Specifically, there was an 84-per-cent increase in registrations, year-over-year, during the first six months of 2020. That growth shows advisors are using this time to prepare themselves professionally to serve clients with more complex situations, Ms. Riddell says.
In addition to offering the program’s modules remotely, Advocis was also able to implement an online proctoring solution for CLU candidates in the spring to replace the in-classroom exam, which allowed a several individuals to complete their final requirement.
Similarly, the ability to take courses remotely is one reason for the large number of registrations in FP Canada’s professional education program over the past few months. These are the courses that candidates for the CFP certification have to complete before they’re eligible to write the final exam.
The organization had to increase enrolment for the program in the spring to accommodate demand, after originally planning for 200 participants per monthly cohort, says Cary List, president and chief executive officer of FP Canada. In addition, it was targeting around 25 students a month in the summer, but FP Canada received more than 300 registrations in July and August.
“The numbers are just off the charts. We have more than 1,900 students enrolled in the professional education program right now, and that’s more than 1,500 since the pandemic hit,” he says.
The professional education program was fortuitously redesigned and launched in late 2019 as an e-learning model with direct instructor contact online, making it an easier process to begin in the current environment, Mr. List says.
Along with the convenience of e-learning, advisors are likely pursuing advanced designations at this time because they’re looking for ways differentiate themselves in a more difficult economy and aiming to become certified before legislation in certain provinces restricting the use of the title “financial planner” comes into effect, he says.
Although FP Canada postponed the June sitting of the CFP certification exam, Mr. List notes that registrations for the November exam are ahead of schedule, which suggests that many advisors are also using this time to prepare.
A similar scenario is taking place with respect to the chartered financial analyst (CFA) program, says Keith Waitt, senior head of professional learning with the CFA Institute in Charlottesville, Va. Although it’s too early to report trends regarding registration for the multi-year CFA program, as most applications are expected in the fall, he says that registrations for the CFA Institute’s first computer-based online exam in February 2021 is already 25-per-cent higher than expected at this stage.
Interest in the CFA Institute’s virtual courses and continuous professional learning credits has also been notably higher during the pandemic, he says, with CFA charterholders and other financial services professionals logging 36,000 credits, or hours of learning, in June compared with 12,000 to 15,000 credits during an average month.
“I think there’s a feeling that people do want to ... keep up with what’s going on,” Mr. Waitt says. “They’re very interested in making sure they’re staying at least equal, if not one step ahead of others in their field.”