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Courses to boost financial savvy

Education could soon be the latest weapon in the fight against poor financial advice and the mis-selling of pensions.

The financial services industry admits that its advice is often poor. With many seeking help to bridge the gap between under-performing pensions and the cost of living, the need for quality is even greater, say employers.

Bryan Sanderson, chairman of the Learning and Skills Council, said school-leavers could be studying for an A-level in financial services in three years' time under plans being developed.

Work is underway to develop level 2 (GCSE-equivalent) qualifications and workplace programmes, and level 3 (A-level equivalent) qualifications are being piloted with three firms - Standard Life, Norwich Union and Nationwide - in projects involving 750 trainees, funded at pound;800 a head by the LSC. Level 2 pilots, involving 2,000 to 5,000 trainees, will cost pound;2 million.

Mr Sanderson, who is also chairman of Standard Chartered bank, said: "We are good at financial services in Britain but this will give it some fresh impetus."

The idea emerged from talks taking place in the industry as it works on setting up a sector skills council for financial services.

The SSC will represent employers in setting training standards. It has been given Sector Skills Development Agency funding for its "development phase" before applying for a licence to operate. David Jackman, chief executive of the new body, said: "There are 500 qualifications. We want to simplify that and create a one-structure framework. The FSA's view is that advice is not good enough across the board, and there is the problem of mis-selling."

Financial services account for 6.2 per cent of the UK's gross domestic product, 4.2 per cent of jobs, and is worth pound;46m. The new SSC will be one of about 30 SSCs that replace the 72 training organisations which had their legal status withdrawn in April 2002. The new SSCs will aim to give industries a stronger voice by joining forces into a small number of bodies. Four SSCs have so far been given their licences, with a further 11 in development.

When the SSCs have been set up, it is expected that they will cover 85 per cent of the workforce.

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