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  • Writer's pictureThe Woodgate Team

What's in a Name? Titles vs Qualifications

What's your job title? Is it truly representative of what you do?

If you're a policeman, a train driver or a teacher, what you do seems quite clear. But a policeman could be a constable, a detective or traffic officer, or you could be serving with the military, the transport organisations, or a security firm. Whichever it is, you might be keen to differentiate your job title to make your own specialisation clear to everyone. This is especially true if you've worked hard to gain a qualification to be able to carry out the role in the first place.

a young woman sits at a desk in a library typing notes into her laptop
Achieving qualifications can take years of study

The world of financial and legal services is rife with these sort of distinctions, and qualified professionals are proud to be able to use titles that may have taken them years to achieve. But often those titles have no legal protection, and there may be nothing stopping an unqualified individual using a title that could mislead people into believing that they possess a level of expertise that isn't present in reality.

The terms 'Financial Planner', 'Solicitor' and 'Accountant' can mean different things to different people. Of these only the term 'Solicitor' is protected in law, and applies to people who have been admitted to the profession and entered onto the register of solicitors maintained by the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

Financial Planner or Financial Adviser?

In the late 1980's the Financial Services Act introduced the term 'Independent Financial Adviser' (IFA) to differentiate those advisers who chose to practice as independents, with a clear duty to put their clients' interests first, from 'tied agents' who were contracted to one provider and unable to advise on products from across the market. The term 'IFA' is still widely used, and it has a clear meaning in law.

Since those early days of regulation we have seen the rise of more comprehensive financial planning services, and advisers offering these have sought to distinguish themselves from more transactional services. The term 'financial planner' has no legal authority or definition, but purists argue that it should be reserved only for those practitioners providing services based on the six-stage financial planning model promoted by the Financial Planning Standards Board, an international body represented in the UK by the Chartered Institute for Securities and Investment (CISI).

All true professions have recognised and established educational bodies, and achievement of a higher-level qualification should be evidence for consumers of a good standard of expertise in that area. These titles are jealously guarded by the institutes that offer them, and it should be easy to check that an individual is suitably qualified, and the syllabus that they will need to have undertaken to be able to get there. Don't be afraid to ask searching questions of a potential adviser to establish their qualification level and experience.

In the UK, high-level qualifications for financial advisers include Chartered Financial Planner offered by the Personal Finance Society which requires study of a comprehensive suite of financial topics. For financial planners, the Certified Financial Planner qualification from the CISI provides evidence of not only a high level of knowledge but also proven ability to apply that knowledge to a practical client situation in the form of a comprehensive case study exercise.


In the world of accountancy there are many descriptive job titles that indicate an individual's role, including accountant, bookkeeper and auditor among others. Again these titles have no legal basis and are commonly used by unqualified individuals.

Practising accountants will have proven their competency by achieving professional qualifications such as the 'Chartered Accountant' title awarded by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) which requires passes in 15 exams and three years of practical experience to achieve.

For committed professionals in finance, law and accountancy, acquiring these badges of competency is not the end of their studies. All professional institutes require evidence of continuing study each year to maintain the qualification, and many individuals go on to take further recognised courses to continue to build their knowledge and expertise.

Whatever the subject area, you can be confident that our teams at Woodgate Financial Planning and Chesterton House Accounting Services have worked hard to acquire relevant qualifications and demonstrate their abilities, to be able to give great advice to our clients. We are proud to have fostered an environment where continual learning is prized and recognised, and we hold regular internal trainings for our teams as well as encouraging further professional studies.

The message is that if you are looking for high quality advice and guidance from a professional practitioner, you should focus on qualifications, not titles. It's a philosophy that has helped us to deliver great results for our clients over a long period of time.

Andy Jervis, Certified Financial Planner


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