Exam Q&A: Advanced diploma questions; paraplanning qualification

19 January 2024

For the start of this year’s exam season, Professional Paraplanner has teamed up once again with Brand Financial Training to answer your questions on the exams ahead.

In this article, the team answers questions on the CII’s paraplanning qualification and the order and planning of exam sittings.

Question: Please can I have more information and advice on the CII’s paraplanning qualification.

The CII’s level 4 Certificate in Paraplanning offers a dedicated qualification route for paraplanners. It is developed for individuals new to the industry looking to potentially become paraplanners or for existing paraplanners looking to develop their knowledge and skills who perhaps have one eye on an eventual path into financial planning.

There is currently no regulatory obligation for paraplanners to hold a qualification, unlike an adviser, but most do look to further their career prospects and improve their technical knowledge and skills through industry exams and qualifications. Most employers will also have expectations but, as the role of the paraplanner does vary wildly, the minimum qualification requirements also vary from company to company.

The CII Certificate in Paraplanning units
CF1 (15 credits) or R01 (20 credits)
R02 (20 credits)
R03 (10 credits)
J09 (30 units)

Both R01 and CF1 cover financial services, regulation & ethics. For those individuals that have very little industry knowledge or those that struggle with exams, the level 3 CF1 exam is definitely going to be the easier option compared to the level 4 R01 exam. Having said that, R01 does tend to be the most popular option as it allows more scope for moving on to an advice qualification longer term, and also more credits towards eventual chartered status.

R02 and R03 are tough exams but will give you a vast amount of knowledge in taxation and investments respectively.

The J09 unit is designed to develop knowledge and understanding of the role of the paraplanner. It will help to build your technical knowledge and planning skills and looks to develop your understanding of how to analyse the customer’s financial circumstances and provide suitable solutions. It is a coursework-based module which may suit certain individuals if they find coursework less stressful than exams. The pass rate is pretty good for a level 4 unit at 79%, but be aware the assignments are tricky and there is not a great deal of help out there for J09 as training providers do currently offer any support due to the CII’s collaboration restrictions for coursework units.

Certificate or diploma?
There are many things to consider before deciding which qualification may be most suited to your circumstances. Paraplanners or aspiring paraplanners should consider what they want to achieve from their qualification, what are their employer’s expectations are, how will it help with their day-to-day responsibilities, as well as considering their longer-term goals.

The Diploma in Financial Planning is the major qualification in the industry (made up of 6 units R01 to R06), and will inevitably be the right option for many individuals. However, there is a strong need for certificate qualifications too, as they provide a solid grounding for individuals working in specific sections of the industry and are a widely recognised and respected qualification.

Plan ahead
We suggest making a plan. Look into your career pathways based upon your interests and long-term goals. If you are working your way up in a smaller firm and your employer has requested the certificate, then that’s a great goal to have. For someone perhaps older or more experienced or who wishes to have a longer-term speciality in a certain area (or even become an adviser), perhaps the diploma is the better option, or at least R01 might be more suitable as a starting point. Though, it’s a long road, and there is time to go back and re-do or change your mind anyway! The good thing is that there is plenty of choice, because a few years ago the only option was an advice qualification or nothing.

Question: Is there a specific order of exams you would recommend on route to the CII Advanced Diploma/chartered?
Question: Is it possible to sit more than one AF exam in one month, given that the sittings are only six monthly?

We will tackle these two questions together.

The route individuals take towards the Advanced Diploma tends to be personal to them. There are many units available at all levels so there are many different routes that can be taken.

‘Easiest’ or ‘most relevant’ route
Some candidates opt for the so say ‘easiest’ route, where units with overlapping technical content are taken together to try to minimise revision time and/or focussing on gaining the minimum credits required at each level, and/or looking for units with the highest pass rates in the hope these will be easier to pass.
Others opt for the most ‘relevant’ route depending on their current specialisms and future plans, so for example a pension specialist will take AF7, AF8, J05, AF5 (compulsory) and build other units around this to fill in the gaps.
There is no ‘best’ order it’s really down to your circumstances. We tend to recommend that AF5 should be last on the list as you will need to call on your knowledge from the other exams but having said that we do see many successful candidates who take AF5 earlier in their exam journey.

One factor that may affect your choices is when the exam units can be sat. There are usually only two or three sittings of the AF and most of the J exams per year, and this can result in a significant delay if a candidate doesn’t pass and has to wait 6 months for a re-sit. However, there is always the option of sitting a year-round exam in-between (such as ER1, CF8, J10 and J12). if you opt for a coursework-based unit such as AF6 or AF8 you can fit this around exam-based units.

Overlapping content
AF exams are not easy – they go beyond what is expected from the diploma level exams and we certainly wouldn’t recommend sitting AF7, AF4 or AF1 together. There is little or no overlapping content and each would require a significant amount of study time. Sitting a ‘J’ unit alongside one of these however is a realistic possibility as there is a lot overlapping content in some the exam combinations including J10 and AF4, AF1 and J02 and also AF7 and J05 (although slightly less in this last combination).

It is also important to note that whilst there may be overlapping content in some of the AF and J syllabuses, the units themselves differ in terms of style and format. It is really up to you whether you feel you can cope with two exams within a month or so of each other.

It can seem complicated choosing which exams to take and when, but taking some time to look at the options, consider the syllabus, and then mapping out the route ahead can make things much clearer and hopefully save you a lot of studying time!


About Brand Financial Training

Brand Financial Training provides a variety of immediately accessible free and paid learning resources to help candidates pass their CII exams.  Their resource range ensures there is something that suits every style of learning including mock papers, calculation workbooks, videos, audio masterclasses, study notes and more.  Visit Brand Financial Training at https://brandft.co.uk

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Professional Paraplanner