The Institute of Money Adviser’s Certificate of Money Advice Practice (CertMAP) is a qualification for people who are already working or volunteering as money advisers. You need to have a year’s full-time experience or two years part-time.
The course is provided by the IMA jointly with Staffordshire University. About 1,300 people have attained the CertMAP qualification, which is accredited by the Money Advice Service to caseworker/specialist level. You can find out more about the CertMap qualification on the IMA’s website.
I took it January. Several people asked me why I did this, so I thought I would blog about it. I’ve asked some other people for their views on the course and the qualification.
Michael Agboh-Davison is Debt Advice co-ordinator at Stepchange. He has just taken the CertMAP in the same cohort as me:
I’d thoroughly recommend the CertMAP to colleagues across the sector. By way of encouragement, this is how I found it.
The online learning format was something I was familiar with from recent Open University study, but for others it might be new. In brief, there’s a 12 week structured programme of reading, with some written tasks along the way and a final two hour online exam which can be taken at home or work.
The volume of reading is manageable enough, even around a busy home life. After learning the hard way in previous studies about the risks of cutting corners in reading, I was quite diligent and read everything thoroughly. Even so, I don’t think I spent anywhere near the suggested ten hours a week, and one or two evenings seemed sufficient.
The course content deals with all the essential topics, including the ‘meat and veg’ of debt advice, like judgments, bailiffs, repossession, insolvency options, dealing with priority debts and so on. I think it hits the right balance and represents what the majority of debt advisors need to know. A comparison that most debt advisors will recognise is the CPAG Debt Advice Handbook. While the CertMAP course covers quite a bit beyond this, if you’re comfortable with the tone and content of the Handbook, the course materials won’t come as a shock.
My attitude to exams is fairly typical – however well I know the subject, I still don’t enjoy them. With this exam, I found it a challenge to get all the questions completed in time, but there were no nasty surprises. It wasn’t the toughest exam I’ve ever faced, but I certainly felt I’d earned a pint at the end of it.
One of the attractions to CertMAP for me is the CPD (‘continuing professional development’) regime that follows the award. This requires ongoing training, study and learning to maintain IMA accredited status. In practice, I already do a lot of this and I’m sure most colleagues do too, particularly these days when the advice sector is going through more changes than at any time I remember. But for me, having a formal CPD requirement to work towards is an incentive to make an extra effort and a helpful way of tracking what I’ve done.
Would I change anything about the CertMAP course? There was a strong focus on client vulnerability, but I thought there was scope to cover in more depth the knowledge and skills needed to support specific issues such as addiction, terminal illness or bereavement. Some advice areas – bankruptcy for instance – are vast subjects with an almost unending supply of new things to learn, and I felt in places the course could have gone into greater detail. Similarly, the sections about reflective practice and interviewing skills seemed to only scratch the surface of huge topics.
However, given the course length, the existing content is about right, and if anything this highlights the potential for a more advanced follow-up qualification. I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking this, and I’d welcome an opportunity for further study.
Jane Clack, Money Advice Consultant at Payplan and IMA Company Secretary, took the CertMAP in 2014.
Why would I take this, I asked myself when CertMAP was introduced. I felt I was a good money adviser; I had started with the old Yellow Route which was the basic introduction to debt, I had worked in the field with clients for ten years, gone on training courses, taken the Certificate in Proficiency in Personal Insolvency (CPPI), I used Wiser Adviser and was a member of the IMA. What did I have to learn that I could not pick up on the job, ask other people about, read up in CPAG’s Debt Advice Handbook or National Debtline’s excellent factsheets? But I wanted to be an accredited adviser.
I set to work with a will. I did the 120 hours study and more. I learnt new things, refreshed my knowledge on old things and enjoyed the discipline of studying again. I went to bed with the CPAG handbook and copious sheets from the course.
The course forum was good for debating and arguing points – and I did win one! I spoke to others in the same position who were also finding it a little more complex than they had originally thought. I did get peeved that work I spent a lot of time on was not marked individually, just getting generic feedback. However, I learned from these and if I disputed anything, there was more detailed information.
As the exam approach, I started to get very worried. What if I did not pass? I spent ages marking things up in my handbook. I remembered exam techniques. I worked out how much time I had for each question and prayed I knew or could find the answers on the day. Social Policy I knew could be my downfall as we had not done much in my work – although that is changing now.
I sat in my study on a Saturday morning, got onto the site and took a deep breath and started. I tried to get as many questions answered as I could. I did not stop – it took the whole time allowed.
Then came the waiting game and an unexpected the drop in adrenaline because there was nothing more to do in the evenings. Those few weeks seemed to stretch into infinity. The embarrassment I was going to feel if I failed… And then came the day I could check and saw that I had passed. A red letter day!
Then of course comes the Continuing Professional Development work necessary each year. I enjoy my Money Advice Group, reading, researching and attending training courses and am lucky enough to have an employer who recognises the importance of these and funds them for me.
We are professionals and it is good to have a professional qualification we can port – for people who already have the CertMAP, let us all keep pushing for an advanced course.
If you haven’t taken it yet, enrol and enjoy the studying!
Nick Pearson is CEO of The Debt Counsellors and Vice Chair of the IMA:
The IMA Certificate in Money Advice Practice is the “gold standard” qualification for specialist debt advisers. It is a rigorous examination and requires considerable time, knowledge and effort to pass it. The Continuous Professional Development requirements mean that advisers must keep up to date with developments to maintain accreditation. The Debt Counsellors has a policy of only employing staff who have passed the CMAP and have kept up to date with CPD as we think this helps guarantee the highest standards of debt advice to clients.
I am an advocate of CMAP being mandatory for anyone giving debt advice to the public and I am certain that it will not be long before the FCA take a similar view.
And finally my comments:
I decided to take the CertMAP because I think giving debt advice is a profession and this is its professional qualification.
I didn’t record how many hours I spent studying, there was a lot more some weeks than others. I wouldn’t expect any practising debt adviser to find much new in the section on priority debts for instance. But some weeks there were chunks I had rarely come across, for example, foreign debts. I did end up feeling the course designers had a bee in their bonnet about Time Orders for secured debts… but no doubt I will be grateful if I ever have a client who needs one!
Even where I knew my way around a topic, it was often interesting to step back, view the subject as a whole and reflect. Good debt advice is as much about the way it is delivered as it is about getting the facts right.
The format of the exam was all short answers, bullet point answers were fine, no need to write masses. No essays, no multiple choice. There were plenty of old papers to work through and that’s what I did in the last week. 95% of the questions were covered in the course, or the listed reading material somewhere, the exceptions being a couple on benefits thrown in to keep us on our toes!
I did a couple of papers with no time limits, looking up a lot. Then I went back through and chopped back the answers to what I could hope to write in the time available – no point in writing paragraphs for a question with only 1 mark allocated. Then I did several other papers in timed conditions. There is a lot to get through in two hours, so I was glad I had prepared thoroughly in the last week.
Like the others, I would encourage all debt advisors to take it!