Make mental health a priority as education standards loom

26 October 2018

New education standards imposed on advisers are perhaps their biggest source of stress, explains Zoe Fielding.

Make mental health a priority as education standards loom Complying with education standards will create stress for advisers: planning for wellbeing can be an important in coping with the changes.

New financial advice education standards come into full force in 2024 but are causing stress for advisers now.

By 2021, all advisers will have to pass an exam on ethics, corporate law and the application of advice. The latest proposal is for the exam to be three to four hours long, include 75 questions, and have a scaled pass mark of 65 per cent. Advisers would have two chances to re-sit the test if they failed.

From 2024, advisers must possess relevant tertiary qualifications: to achieve this, many advisers will have to undertake university-level study.

For some, this is a big change that will hit late in their career, causing stress and doubt about whether complying with the new regulations is worthwhile.

Advisers should take positive steps to stay mentally strong through the transition.

“A lot of advisers haven’t studied or sat exams for many years but are very successful business operators,” says Association of Financial Advisers chief executive officer Philip Kewin.

“The prospect of not being able to study successfully and get the qualifications is causing people to think ‘It’s too hard, I don’t want to finish my career as a failure’,” he explains.

But it’s not just older advisers who are worried.

“There are younger advisers who are looking at the study requirements, the time and money they need to invest – some are new in business, some have young families – and they’re looking at how they’re going to manage,” Kewin adds.

Initial consultations on the education and ethical standards closed in June. Since then, the Financial Adviser Standards and Ethics Authority has released several draft guidance statements outlining its proposals.

But the details are far from set in stone. For instance, several degrees have been approved and advisers who already have qualifications such as diploma in financial planning will receive credit for their prior studies. But details of what the exam will entail remain uncertain.

This lack of clarity is another source of anxiety, Kewin says.

A checklist to support mental health

Work was the biggest challenge to wellbeing for 44 per cent of respondents to recent Mindstar research undertaken among attendees at APEX Inspire events around the country.

“At a time like this, when people know there will be stresses, having a proactive plan around mental health is important,” says BeyondBlue general manager of workplace, partnerships and engagement Patrice O’Brien.

There are several elements to planning for good mental health:

  • look after your physical health
  • get enough sleep, eat well, exercise, and avoid alcohol and drugs
  • surround yourself with a supportive network of peers
  • those who are going through the same thing can help share information
  • don’t forget to tell your friends, family, and your GP so they can all help you manage change
  • be aware of the warning signs that you need extra help. These include:
    • difficulty concentrating
    • feeling more tired and fatigued than usual
    • physical symptoms such as muscle pain and tension headaches
    • difficulty sleeping
    • loss of appetite
    • feeling tearful and emotional
    • becoming frustrated or angry easily
    • avoiding social situations and not getting pleasure out of activities you would normally enjoy
  • stay reliably informed about upcoming changes as misinformation leads to unnecessary stress.

Trade publications, dealer groups and industry bodies such as the AFA and the Financial Planning Association are well placed to help decipher the incoming requirements.

“When there’s big change it’s normal to feel overwhelmed but it’s when the warning signs ... persist over two to four weeks without let up, that’s when to seek help,” says O’Brien.

How to reach out to others

It can be difficult to spot when others need help but there’s no harm in checking: “It doesn’t hurt to say: ‘Hey, you’re not yourself, are you OK?’,” O’Brien says.

First, consider whether you’re the right person to have that conversation or if there’s someone else they’re more likely to talk to.

If you are the person, think about when and where to ask: in a private environment where they’ll feel comfortable is best.

“You might need to have a few goes at it,” says O’Brien. “If they say, ‘I’m fine’, check again in a few weeks. Our research shows it might be the third or fourth time that they open up but people are really grateful that they persevered.”

Further resources to manage health and wellbeing

“If you approach someone and they answer, ‘No, I’m not OK’, you need to be able to point them in the right direction,” O’Brien says.

Their GP can help and make referrals if necessary. Larger businesses may have employee-assistance programs that provide counselling and support.

Beyond Blue has free support services available 24 hours a day, seven days a week over the phone, via email and webchat. Beyond Blue’s website includes mental health tips and advice for the workplace. Other resources such as R U OK? and Lifeline Australia can also help.

The AFA is redirecting resources into helping advisers one-on-one to audit their qualifications and assess how they can meet the education standards.

Last October it launched AFA Care in partnership with Benestar Group to provide information and strategies to help advisers deal with work stress. Members can contact the service for counselling, advice and referrals to mental-health professionals.

“We could see the heightened level of stress and anxiety in the adviser community and wanted to offer advisers one more level of assistance,” Kewin says.

Take up has increased in recent months as the exam requirements have come to light. It can be difficult to admit when things are getting you down but by taking control you’ll put yourself in the best position to face the future.