It was about 4 years ago when I first heard from Trevor Williamson of Manchester Metropolitan University about the Masters in Business Management and Financial Planning. He was speaking at a CII event to encourage planners to take up the challenge. As a Fellow of the CII, it would take me only 9 months, by distance learning, to complete the course. I work full time and have two children but surely I could manage that. It was the relatively short timescale in which the course could be done with alongside the benefits to my development as a financial planner that convinced me to take it up.

    It has been part of my plan for many years to go back to university. I had far too good a time the first time around and didn’t leave with the result I felt I could have achieved. So, I had something to prove to myself.

    Fast forward to January 2015 and I joined Smart Financial, who had brilliantly offered to sponsor me to complete the Masters. I contacted Trevor and within 6 weeks, I was attending the induction day. There were students from across the country, from many different companies and roles. We all had our own reasons for being there but we all wanted to develop our understanding.

    The course is held over 6 full days at the university campus in Manchester. With the remaining study time being completed under your own steam in your own time, with the guidance during the final dissertation of a tutor.

    Having completed the course, and passed, I have to say that I am pleased that I did. There is a time commitment and there were those who deferred during the course due to the need to juggle work with life with studying. For the first six months of the course, I didn’t need to set aside a huge amount of time, perhaps 4/5 hours a week, less some weeks. For the last 2/3 months, the time required was considerable, with me giving up most weekends and evenings so I did not take up much time from work to do the course. It wasn’t easy to juggle a job and the course, but I think the hardest part was fitting the course around work and life! The last few months were exhausting, and although we don’t really go out to see clients, we do for those based in London so I would use travel time on the train to read articles and carry out research.

    The most challenging thing for me was learning to read and understand academic research papers was extremely difficult. The language is so different to the language used in reports that we read on a daily basis. It was also difficult to emulate that in my own writing.

    Was it worth it? Definitely. Although for a considerable proportion of the course I felt I was floundering in the dark, I learned a whole set of new skills. I can read and critique an academic paper, try it sometime, it’s not easy! I have learned to undertake academic research and interpret the results. Finally, I have a 15,000-word dissertation to my name.

    My research was concerned with one area of Behavioural Finance. Of all the examinations that are available for financial planners, there isn’t one that we need that covers Behavioural Finance. Yet, it is vital that financial planners recognise behavioural biases that naturally exist in our clients. If we don’t, we can’t hope to protect our clients from them. They could be the downfall of our clients’ plans.

    I learnt a lot about investor behaviour, which gives me the opportunity to pre-empt poor decision-making and educate my clients. One example would be spending more time explaining our rebalancing approach. Assets that are performing well are sold in preference for those that haven’t performed as well. This is counter intuitive to many clients.

    Whilst it was the qualification that set me on this journey, it was a greater understanding of my clients that got me to the end.

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