Sharpening The Saw: The Importance of Fostering a Culture of Professional Development in the Exempt Market

As the Exempt Market sector becomes increasingly competitive, participants should take a lesson from the rest of the financial services industry: continuing professional development produces the knowledge and skills to provide value, and differentiates us in increasing competitive environments.
 

"A registrant that undertakes professional development, resulting in the ability to provide value to consumers, can come to differentiate themselves in a noisy market and ultimately improve their ability to compete."

 
The completion of the initial, introductory courses required to be a candidate for registration and participation in our sector is not enough. They should be seen as only a step in an on-going commitment to proficiency and betterment. That first step merely prepares the candidate with a base level of knowledge to begin to fulfill their role in a process of determining investment suitability. That process stems from two distinct areas of focus (knowing the products and knowing the clients). Since those two areas are in a state of constant change, a commitment to on-going professional development, through formal learning in addition to professional experience, should be understood as an obligation.
 
Not only can this commitment benefit their prospective investors, but the registrant will benefit as well. Continuing education is considered to be a defining characteristic of being a true professional. As such, a registrant that undertakes professional development, resulting in the ability to provide value to consumers, can come to differentiate themselves in a noisy market and ultimately improve their ability to compete. While this effort does not guarantee job security, or an opportunity for increased income, many financial service professionals credit their continuing education as being a critical component of their success. As Abraham Lincoln once famously stated, “If you give me six hours to cut down a tree I will spend the first four sharpening the Ax.”
 

Moreover, those providing management and compliance oversight should also take note. Arguably, registrants actively engaged in this sort of betterment may come to produce more revenue for the firm, with less compliance risk. Therefore, developing a culture of professional development (as an aspect of a culture of compliance) would make good business sense.

 
Managers can foster this culture in a variety of ways, including by open encouragement and public acknowledgment of educational achievements, and perhaps even including professional development as an aspect of a motivational/reward program. Importantly, a culture of education begins at the top of a firm, and, therefore, it’s most senior members should be prepared to lead by example.
 

The Exempt Market sector is currently spared from the strict regimen of education credits that is required of most types of professionals. As such, we have the opportunity to proactively begin to address this important topic on our own terms, perhaps by adopting a “best practices” approach to this aspect of our business. In this regard, NEMA has again taken a leadership role.

 
Last year, under the direction of NEMA, and with generous corporate sponsorship, the Education Committee was formed and its first major project was completed: www.exempteducation.com .The committee has been delighted with the feedback from association members and the general public. Looking forward, the committee intends to fulfill its role in fostering a culture of education, and to encourage each participant to undertake their own continuing education initiatives.
 

To this end, on behalf of the Education Committee, I invite NEMA members, and other interested parties, to share their ideas on how our association can most appropriately encourage professional development.
 
 

Rod Burylo is Vice President of Business Development for Alitis Investment Counsel and serves as a Director and as Chair of Exempt Education for the National Exempt Market Association.