Professional qualifications in the financial services industry can look like a minefield when you’re starting out. It is important that you select the right one for the job that you want to do. The UK Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), the regulator of the UK financial services industry, requires professionals in certain areas to have specific qualifications.

Many of these are provided by the Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment (CISI). Qualifications offered are for those at the beginning of their career or aspiring to work in the industry, right up to the most experienced professionals. These qualifications reflect the diversity of financial services industry activities.

For those wanting to work with retail clients, qualifications are recognised by the FCA, while for professionals working with or aspiring to work with wholesale clients, qualifications in this sector are recognised by the Financial Skills Partnership (FSP).

Foundation courses

Fundamentals of Financial Services
Fundamentals of Financial Services is an important first step in developing the essential basic knowledge required for working in financial services. It is ideally suited to new or junior employees working in the industry or school candidates considering a career in finance.

Introduction to Investment – the Foundation Qualification
Introduction to Investment is useful for newcomers as it gives an overview of the industry. The unit familiarises candidates with the economic underpinning of the industry, the institutions and the different asset classes, as well as touching on retail products, including mortgages and pensions.

This unit is often used as part of the induction programme for new staff who are not undertaking a regulated role. It is also relevant to individuals attending full-time education who are interested in working in the industry and want to learn more about it. Although offered as a free-standing unit, Introduction to Investment is also the first unit of the benchmark qualification – the Investment Operations Certificate (IOC) which operations supervisors have to pass. It also forms part of the new CISI Certificate for Introduction to Securities & Investment.

Certificate for Introduction to Securities & Investment
The Certificate for Introduction to Securities & Investment has been specifically designed to provide students aged 16-18 with a direct entry route into the financial services industry. It provides an overview of all areas of investment and understanding the role of financial services in the UK economy.

The qualification comprises two units: Introduction to Securities & Investment, followed by a linked, extended project. The Certificate for Introduction to Securities & Investment is the first CISI qualification to receive a UCAS tariff for those wishing to progress to higher education. Students achieving the highest grade of a pass with Distinction will be able to claim 60 points, equivalent to a grade A at AS level.

Further training

IT in Investment Operations
IT in Investment Operations (ITIO) has been developed for IT staff working in financial services, who wish to develop their knowledge and understanding of IT needs specific to the financial services arena. It is of particular interest to those who are new to, or hoping to move into, the financial services industry. It provides firms with a benchmark against which to assess an employee’s knowledge and competence and offers those engaged in IT a broader understanding of the information technology needs of a firm in this sector.

Risk in Financial Services
Risk in Financial Services is a comprehensive global introduction to all major risk areas in financial services and has been developed to provide candidates with a broad understanding of the key risks that can arise. It provides a sound grounding in principles of the risk management framework and corporate governance and risk oversight, as well as covering specific techniques used in identifying, reducing and managing specific risks.

Combating Financial Crime
Always high on the regulatory agenda, financial crime spreads beyond individuals and firms, representing an issue of international significance in today’s globalised marketplace. The Combating Financial Crime qualification takes a global view of transnational crime and illustrates practical defences. A standalone qualification, it can also be taken with a CISI regulatory exam to complete the full Certificate in Combating Financial Crime.

Global Financial Compliance
Global Financial Compliance has been developed to provide candidates with a broad understanding of the compliance issues that arise within the financial services industry. The qualification is suitable for all compliance staff, particularly compliance officers. It provides a sound grounding in the international regulatory environment, the compliance function, managing the risk of financial crime, ethics, integrity and fairness and governance, risk management and compliance. It can be taken as a standalone award or with a regulatory paper to provide a full certificate.

Certificate Programme/Certificate in Corporate Finance
The Certificate Programme is a suite of QCF (Ofqual’s Qualifications & Credit Framework) level 3 qualifications currently recognised on the recommended exam list for front office roles in the wholesale environment.

The Certificate in Corporate Finance is a standalone qualification, comprising a specialist corporate finance regulatory paper (Corporate Finance Regulation) and a technical paper (Corporate Finance Technical Foundations).

Investment Advice Diploma (IAD)
The IAD is a level 4 qualification for individuals working in a retail environment. Candidates take the core units UK Regulation and Professional Integrity and Investment Principles, Risk & Taxation, and one or more of the specialist units Securities, Derivatives or Private Client Advice. The IAD is accredited by Ofqual and recognised by the FCA as an appropriate exam for advising on and dealing in securities, derivatives, advising on packaged products and managing investments.

The Investment Operations Certificate
The IOC is designed to train staff working in the operations and settlement areas of the business.

In order to be awarded the IOC, candidates must pass three units. Individuals undertaking a supervisory role must pass the units designed to give them understanding of (i) the securities and investments market and (ii) the regulatory environment in which the industry operates, plus a more detailed look at (iii) a particular technical subject. The units available are:

  • Introduction to Securities and Investment
  • UK Financial Regulation / Principles of UK Financial Regulation
  • One from:
  • Administration of Settlement & Investments
  • Asset Servicing
  • Collective Investment Schemes Administration
  • Combating Financial Crime
  • Exchange-Traded Derivatives
  • Global Financial Compliance
  • Global Securities Operations
  • ISA Administration
  • IT in Investment Operations
  • Operational Risk
  • Over-the-counter (OTC) Derivatives
  • Risk in Financial Services.

All exams, with the exception of Risk in Financial Services, (RFS) Combating Financial Crime (CFC) and Global Financial Compliance (GFC) last one hour and consist of 50 multiple choice questions delivered by computer based testing. RFS, CFC and GFC last two hours and consist of 100 multiple choice questions.

Advanced courses

Advanced Certificate Programme
The Advanced Certificates are normally taken by candidates who have completed the IOC programme and want to specialise in particular areas of investment operations. At the very least, they will have taken the corresponding IOC unit before attempting the advanced paper. There is a choice of two exams:

  • Advanced Operational Risk (AOR)
  • Advanced Global Securities Operations (AGSO).

Candidates will usually have work experience in the industry and perhaps be moving into management roles. The exams require them to combine technical knowledge with this work experience to address more in-depth questions and case studies in a three-hour written exam. Achievement of an Advanced Certificate will also contribute towards the CISI’s higher level Diploma in Investment Operations.

Advanced Operational Risk is for those who want to know more about the risks that their firms face and how best to mitigate them. It covers areas such as identifying risk types and proposing a risk strategy. It is based on realistic case studies.

Advanced Global Securities Operations is for those who are specialising in global custody and global settlement, including areas such as custodian procedures and client management.

Certificate in Wealth Management (CWM)
The aim of the Certificate in Wealth Management is to provide a fundamental understanding of how financial advice can be used to meet clients’ needs. This is of use to those who, though not directly involved in the financial advice process (thus requiring a level 4 qualification) do work in this broad area and would find it useful to have an overview of the wealth management process.

Drawn from both UK and international best practice, the exam is currently being taken in the Middle East, Spain and the UK and is available globally. It lasts for two hours and consists of 100 multiple choice questions.

Islamic Finance Qualification (IFQ)
The IFQ is a qualification for individuals working in Islamic finance and banking who need to know more about Sharia’a, which underpins Islamic banking contracts and the funds themselves. The IFQ is a two hour, 100 multiple choice question exam delivered by computer based testing. The exam is underpinned by a workbook of Islamic banking practice. This contains the study material for the exam, as well as being a handbook for banks interested in Islamic banking. The IFQ is available in English and Arabic.

The CISI Masters (CISIM) Programme
The CISI Masters Programme is a career focused postgraduate level specialist qualification which is comparable in depth to a university Masters degree.

Wealth Management is the first stream in the programme. It comprises three narrative exams, each lasting three hours: Financial Markets, Portfolio Construction Theory and Applied Wealth Management. It is suitable for wealth managers, independent financial advisers and private client managers devising investment portfolios to meet clients’ needs. It is designed by practitioners to test candidates’ ability to provide solutions to practical business problems.

The exams reflect situations and issues that practitioners will encounter and require candidates to apply their knowledge in order to answer case studies, write reports and explain techniques and terms. Typically the Masters takes 18 months to two years to complete. Candidates successfully completing CISIM and the CISI’s online IntegrityMatters unit are eligible for full Membership (MCSI) of the CISI. This qualification has been accredited by Ofqual as a level 7 qualification and recognised by the FCA as an appropriate exam for four regulated activities: advising on and dealing in securities, advising on and dealing in derivatives, advising on packaged products and managing investments.

Candidates wishing to take the Masters must first hold a relevant qualification. Details of those qualifications which meet this requirement can be found on the CISI website.

The CISI Diploma
While CISIM offers candidates a structured programme of units tailored to their career pathway, the Institute’s traditional senior practitioner qualification – the CISI Diploma – gives candidates a free choice of units.

The Diploma is a highly regarded professional qualification. While having no exact academic equivalent, it is pitched at degree level. Along with the CISIM programme, it is the Institute’s most senior qualification, designed by practitioners to test candidates’ ability to provide solutions to practical business problems. The exams reflect situations and issues that practitioners will encounter and require candidates to apply their knowledge in order to answer case studies, write reports and explain techniques and terms.
The Diploma typically takes 18 months to two years and requires candidates to pass any combination of three narrative papers, each lasting three hours. Options are:

  • Bond and Fixed Interest Markets
  • Financial Derivatives
  • Fund Management
  • Global Operations Management
  • Regulation and Compliance.

Certificate in Private Client Investment Advice & Management
PCIAM is a standalone level 6 Certificate which enables practitioners to demonstrate their broad understanding of the principles of private client investment advice, within the context of the current regulatory environment. It is suitable for existing authorised advisers qualified to QCF level 4.

Diploma in Investment Compliance
The Diploma in Investment Compliance is a higher level, global qualification that offers a clear career pathway for compliance specialists and practitioners. To take the qualification, candidates must fulfill the prerequisite entry requirements. The qualification itself consists of two core units focused on regulation and compliance and a choice of one from the three following technical units: Global Financial Compliance, Combating Financial Crime or Risk in Financial Services.

Diploma in Investment Operations
This qualification has been designed for individuals employed in operations at a supervisory level, who are aspiring to a management role or who need an in-depth knowledge of the area. It builds on the Advanced Certificates. Typically, candidates will have completed the IOC and progressed to one of the two advanced exams. The final unit, Global Operations Management, introduces them to the regulatory structure of the main markets, the dealing and market environment, risk and control, settlement systems, operations and procedures used in the UK and internationally.

Diploma in Corporate Finance
The Diploma in Corporate Finance is a new qualification jointly developed and awarded by the CISI and Institute of Chartered Accountants England & Wales (ICAEW).

It has been designed to equip candidates with advanced corporate finance knowledge, skills and expertise and has been developed by corporate financiers to ensure it is work related and transaction-orientated.

Candidates wishing to take the qualification must meet the entry requirements by holding either the CISI Certificate in Corporate Finance or ICAEW’s ACA qualification.

Recognition of CISI qualifications
The CISI has to satisfy a number of regulators that its exams are managed properly and that its industry benchmark qualifications are appropriate to their associated activities. The FCA determines the activities for which individuals have to hold an exam and determines whether the CISI’s qualifications meet the exam standards it has set for an activity and can be added to its appropriate exam list. The FSP endorses qualifications for accreditation by the education regulator, Ofqual, and maintains the list of recommended exams.

The CISI is recognised as an awarding body by Ofqual and its qualifications are included both on the FCA’s appropriate and the FSP’s recommended exam lists, providing the assurance that the CISI processes and
exams have passed rigorous quality assurance checks.

About the Author

  • About Yvonne Dineen: Yvonne Dineen is Assistant Director for Qualifications at the Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment.

Yvonne Dineen

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