August 28th was the last opportunity for students to sit the 2008/9 GRiD/CII certificate in group risk. It has been an unprecedented first year for the new qualification, with over 500 candidates estimated to have taken the hour long multiple choice test paper and total of 1,100 registering for the syllabus material.
A much more modest level of success was anticipated when developing an industry qualification was agreed by GRiD members. An initial survey of GRiD members estimated that around 250 course books would be sold in the first year with around 100 per year in the following years. The significantly higher uptake level underlines just how much the message of self regulation has resonated with the group risk industry. Given the increasing scrutiny of professional standards, qualification and development throughout the financial services sector, demand for a means to benchmark achievement in group risk is likely to build further.
MAKING THE EXAM A REALITY
Given the enthusiastic industry response the first exam has received from practitioners, it is perhaps surprising that it took so long to get it off the ground. It was first proposed back in 2003 when GRiD members expressed concern at the lack of a recognised qualification targeted at group risk organisations, leaving practitioners obliged to take exams which were not particularly relevant.
The proposal quickly struck a chord among members and a working party headed up by Howard Rayner, Canada Life’s group legislation manager, was set up to ensure the first qualification in group risk became a reality.
Organisers immediately faced a significant challenge. While GRiD’s broad- based membership of reinsurers, insurers and intermediaries gave it a unique understanding of the issues affecting the sector, creating a relevant exam which addressed everyone’s needs could be a big ask. Establishing participation from all sections of the GRiD membership was crucial to solving this problem. This enabled us to pool ideas from already established training materials geared at specific member audiences. In the event, these were remarkably similar in coverage and approach, so coming up with a subsequent outline synopsis was fairly straightforward to develop and approve.
However, the biggest hurdle – finding a professional body to partner GRiD on this initiative – was still to come. A partner was essential for a number of reasons: to help GRiD finalise content and give third party endorsement to the finished qualification, to provide the infrastructure needed to deliver the exam and to support GRiD in funding the qualification. In June 2007 after four years’ search and dialogue, the Chartered Institute of Insurance (CII) formally agreed to develop and co-fund the exam to be launched in 2008.
With a firm launch date just a year away, it was time to start drafting course material and examination questions in earnest. Thankfully, recognising that the launch of a dedicated group risk exam was long overdue, industry experts were extremely supportive. Consequently, the working party was able to assemble a team of eight writers to compile course work while a further six worked on exam questions with CII support.
THE SECRET OF SUCCESS
After five years in development, course literature for the GRiD exam was launched in July 2008 with students able to sit the hour long multiple choice qualification online via CII’s examination portal from September of that year. Demand for course literature has been high from day one with a number of factors contributing to this success.
Firstly, industry response has been phenomenal. From the outset, many GRiD member companies have encouraged their sales, technical and key customer facing staff to take the exam. Some are even building the exam into their training and competence schemes and the course book is increasingly seen as an industry reference manual.
Secondly, thanks to our partnership with the CII, the content and delivery of the examination material is perfectly targeted. The exam is set at CII certificate level and, as such, should demonstrate foundation level understanding across the group risk market. The backing of the CII also provides a platform for attracting candidates from the wider insurance industry as well as taking the message to professionals such as HR specialists who manage group risk arrangements for their own staff. In addition, the convenience of an online exam – delivered by CII IT infrastructure – has been a major plus for examinees.
But the most important factor in the exam’s success is external. Despite the fact that there is currently no regulatory requirement for a group risk qualification, the regulatory focus throughout the financial services sector has clearly encouraged group risk practitioners to get their house in order. While it is not yet comparable to the qualification advisers in those areas currently affected by the Retail Distribution Review (RDR) will be obliged to undertake, it represents the first official attempt to provide a quality standard for industry attainment and we intend to build on this success going forward.
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
The success of the first group risk exam underlines the commitment of the industry to ensuring consistently high quality of service across insurance, reinsurance and advisory markets. Going forward, we will update course literature and questions to reflect changes in regulation and legislation on an ongoing basis. The first such update has just taken place. In addition, we are already looking into the possibility of launching an advanced exam which could be available as early as end 2010. We are, of course, mindful that it may be the regulator rather than the industry that calls the shots in the long term but whether or not this comes to pass, we are well equipped to answer the call for increased demonstration of competence.