Road map to becoming a CFP professional in the UK

Road map to becoming a CFP professional in the UK

Let’s break this down in four component parts: level 4 exams, level 6 exam, L7 assessment, the paperwork.

1. Level 4 exams:
These are the minimum requirements set by the UK financial services regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to be a financial adviser.  They are a set of between three and six exams set at level 4 standard.  This broadly equates to GCSE/first year ‘A’ level standard.  You can obtain these qualifications from a range of professional bodies; CIICISILIBF.

They normally take between nine and twelve months to complete.

You need to hold the exams suitable to obtain FCA permissions 4 & 6 (retail packaged products).  You DO NOT need to be regulated by FCA.  If you hold the equivalent exam passes and are NOT FCA regulated, you are still eligible to become a CFP professional by passing L6 and L7 components shown below.  You must establish your eligibility with CISI before starting the L6 exam study (see below).

2. Level 6 Certificate in Advanced Financial Planning:
This exam is only offered by CISI.  You can gain a partial exemption from this exam if you are already a Chartered Financial Planner with CII.  See here for more information on the Chartered to CFP conversion Professional Assessment.  You can sit the Professional Assessment at any time.  CISI expects the Professional Assessment to take you 10-13 hours.  You have two attempts to pass it before having to pay again.

If you are not able to make use of the partial exemption, you will need to sit the exam.  They run in March and September each year.  For past papers, examiners reports and to book the exam see here.  Please note that the CISI recommends 200 hours revision to be successful in this exam.  Don’t skip the hard work!  Before you start booking this exam, please ensure that you complete the eligibility form for CISI.  Link here.  That will ensure that you are eligible for the CFP pathway, and you can whiz through without having to stop and complete more paperwork in the future.

There are three parts to the exam paper:

Section A (40 marks):  Short answer questions.  Note that they are often questions like “Give four positives of using personal pensions in client advice”.  There might be a range of positives for a question like this so don’t worry about whether the four you put down are the same as the examiner has.  They will make allowance for that.

Section B (20 marks):  There are two questions, and you need to select one and answer that.  NOT BOTH!  These questions are normally broader, less technical questions about the market or consumer demand.  You need to support your views and answer with practical examples.

Section C (40 marks): This is a long answer case study-based question and must be answered.  Answers to one part of the question can impact later questions.  So be careful to explain things in a logical fashion and show ALL your workings.  This will ensure that even if you go off track, you can still gain most of the marks.

Study materials:
You will receive a workbook and/or ebook for the exam that covers the subjects being examined in detail.  There are practice questions at the end of each chapter so you can track how you are doing.

There are also some past papers and chief examiner’s report on CISI website.  Find them here + scroll down to the button that says “Level 6 Certificate in Advanced Financial Planning”.

You will also need to buy yourself a financial calculator. The CISI prescribes the make and models that are acceptable for the exam.  I would recommend the HP 10B11+ which is available from a number of outlets and costs around £30.

Where to sit the exam:
You can choose to sit the exam at a designated CISI exam centre.  There are many and they are spread all over the country.

Alternatively, you can opt to sit the exam remotely.  For those who had a bad experience sitting exams remotely with CII, there is no need to worry about this option with CISI.

The platform is extremely robust.  You will need to login before the exam and set things up.  There is a video and instructions from CISI and they are nice and clear, so there is no reason not to take this option if that is your preference.  The examiner will ask you to pick up your camera and show them the room you are intending to sit your exam in.  This is to ensure there are no workbooks or other materials that might assist you during the exam.  I suggest you make your desk and surroundings as clear of paperwork as physically possible!

Top tip for the L6 exam:
Time management is vital with this exam.  You have 180 minutes to answer questions totalling 100 marks.  Plan you time according and stick to it!  I speak to many people who don’t pass and often stumble on section C purely because it took up too much time.

The pass mark:
It is normally around 75% but will be moderated either side of that depending on the level of difficulty of the overall paper.

Exam results are released in your MyCISI account at set dates.  Please see here for the exam sitting and corresponding results dates.

3. L7 Financial Plan Case Study Assessment
This can only be sat once the L6 exam, or the Principles and Practice of Financial Planning Professional Assessment has been passed.  This is because CISI found that those who couldn’t adequately demonstrate the broad level of competence had a very slim (read that as non-existent) chance of passing the case study assessment!

You can choose to delay applying for your L7 case study after your L6 exam results if you wish.  There is currently no time limit to delay.

The L7 case studies are released of fixed dates each quarter.  Those dates are shown here.  The closing date to apply for your case study is exactly one week before it is released to you on email.

You then have ten weeks to create a financial plan in your own time.  Experience suggests that it takes 150-200 hours to pass this assessment.  Please ensure that you plan your diary accordingly!

Study materials:
CISI will send you the following items:

  • Your case study
  • Income tax calculations for your clients
  • An assumptions sheet
  • Candidate guidance document that contains the assessment standards
  • Sample financial plan

You then have ten weeks to submit your own financial plan for assessment.

CISI prescribed a maximum page count along with font and paragraph spacing sizes.  You should also ensure that you do not copy ANY parts of the CISI sample financial plan.  Your submission will be checked using plagiarism software and your submission will be returned unmarked if it picks up that you have copied any parts of the sample plan OR other submissions.  Your submission must be 100% your own work.

Top tips for the assessment:

  • Manage your time carefully. Ten weeks flies by!
  • You can do the assessment alone or seek help from people like me by attending a course or booking 1:2:1 PAYG assistance.
  • There are plenty of free resources on my website which include Your Financial Planning Maestro podcast which is specifically targeted to help you.
  • There is a cost to buy your case study and for EACH submission. Bear that in mind if you are going it alone and don’t want to pay for a course.  Statistics show that those who book onto a course are more likely to spend less money overall and take significantly fewer hours to pass.


The pass mark:
You need to meet two criteria to pass:

  1. Obtain at least 51% in EACH learning outcome, and
  2. Obtain an overall score of at least 65%

You can take up to three submissions using the same case study to pass, after that, you will be required to purchase a new case study and start again.

Your results will be released 12 weeks after the submission deadline.

The results will come in three forms:

  • Pass – in which case you will be sent the paperwork to complete to become a CFP professional.
  • Marginal fail – where you have failed one or two learning outcomes and are within 5% of the overall pass mark. You will be given the option to resubmit your amendments in 3-4 weeks.  You can take this or take up to 10 weeks to resubmit if you prefer.  You do not need to tell CISI which option you’re going for.
  • Fail – You are wider than the marginal fail criteria. You will be given 10 weeks to resubmit.  Don’t forget that for both fails you will need to pay the reassessment fee for your submissions.

Do you have further questions, or want to find out more? Get in touch.