CPD: You’re doing it wrong

17 February 2016 / By Kris Kitto
I love learning.  There is nothing better than feeling like my brain has been smashed in with a slice of lemon, wrapped around a large gold brick. I call this feeling “the shunt” – something that challenges your reality and provides clarity and perspective.

I embrace education and lifelong learning, both professionally and personally. Education is a great enabler when used correctly. It empowers people and is the cornerstone of our professionalism. We should feel proud of it.

Sadly, parts of the financial services profession have gone off course. It’s time to realign and look at our continuing professional development (CPD) differently.

Ticket to the game

Professional qualifications and expertise are considered a ‘ticket to the game’.  When someone seeks your advice, they already assume that you have the necessary licenses, qualifications and technical knowledge to advise them. Your technical knowledge is a baseline expectation, not a differentiator.

Keeping your technical knowledge up to date is important. Provided your knife is sharp enough to cut the cheese, why make it that little bit sharper so that you can perform surgery with it?

You need to align your tools (brain), with the job you need to do (help people).

Technical knowledge taken too far can be a hindrance, especially when it creates a gulf between you and the people you choose to help.  It can get in the way of being able to form a true emotional connection with your clients. Increase your technical knowledge to a level where you have clarity on concepts to enable you to explain them in plain English.

Diminishing returns

The major problem with our professional education is that many of us are constantly chasing higher levels of technical knowledge in our specialist fields. The technocrats within our industries are put on pedestals and we all worship them. They are seen as role models of what we should aspire to.

Diminishing returns are generated with each additional thing you learn – especially when that additional knowledge doesn’t enable you to directly help the people you serve.

Try this exercise: Think about a guru in your field. That person who is the fountain of knowledge. The wisdom who can recite laws, regulations or cases and make it sound like poetry.

How much more technical knowledge do you think this person has compared to you? Do you feel inferior or insecure when you make this comparison?

Before signing up for yet another technically focussed CPD event to ease these feelings, please take on-board the following:

  1. Back Yourself

You already have more technical knowledge than you think you do.  The gap between yourself and the guru is not as much as you think. Stop selling yourself short when it comes to your own expertise!

  1. Find Your Niche

The guru has deep knowledge. But their knowledge is likely very narrow and specialised. They have found their niche and they’ve embraced it.  Find your own niche – that little spark of magic only you can bring to the people you choose to work with and fan it into life.

  1. Benchmark in Perspective

You are measuring yourself against the wrong benchmark.  Yes – you have less technical knowledge compared to the guru, but you have significantly more than your clients.  Your knowledge combined with a true intention to help people is a gift that you need to give the world.

Ignore the noise

Have you ever wondered why you often feel compelled to undertake technical training over and above what is required?  It may be a little thing called the Imposter Syndrome. Imposter Syndrome is a term used to describe high achieving individuals (professionals) who cannot internalise their accomplishments and suffer from a persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud. To put it another way: We all feel like phonies! Imposter Syndrome                        

Well paid professionals are a lucrative market. It’s no wonder why there are so many businesses and professional organisations out there trying to sell us the latest and greatest technical course, seminar or webinar.  We are constantly being sold these training products under the guise they are helping us help our clients, or that we need to take part to help ‘elevate our industry’.

I am part of a few professional organisations myself.  Although their values and intentions may be pure, I can’t help but feel they’ve lost their way like so many institutions before them.

Be different

As individuals each of us need to differentiate ourselves from our peers. To do this we need to stop focussing on the technical and tangible, and start focusing on the intangible.  Macquarie has done some great research around what makes clients happy and satisfied.

Concrete items such as portfolio performance and fairness of fees, didn’t even make the top ten. It was the intangible things that were most important. Understanding client needs and the ability to inspire confidence made the greatest difference in client satisfaction.

These are soft skills, but they are bloody hard to master.  Give me tax legislation to memorise any time!

There are numerous quotes around being different.  Probably the most apt for this topic is from billionaire Mark Cuban: 10001                              

There might be 10,000 accountants, lawyers, financial planners or SMSF specialists out there – but there is only one of you.  Embrace things that make you different. Uncover that little spark of magic that only you can bring and bring it. Developing these differences will have a bigger impact on you, your clients and your business, than all the technical CPD in the world.

What we should do

The fluffy philosophical stuff is done.  Let’s address some of the practical challenges you will face when you take the CPD road less travelled.

You don’t know everything Guess what happens when you trim the fat on excessive technical CPD training?  You still don’t know everything and you’ve freed up both time and money to spend on things that will have a huge positive impact on you personally as well as your clients and your business.

Have a backup plan You need a backup plan for answering those one-in-a-hundred type of questions or problems you come across.  You probably have a network around you that can plug these holes – so don’t be afraid to tap into it.

Utilise your network Your network could be internal experts in your business, friends in your industry or an external expert you pay directly or indirectly. Utilise them and borrow their technical knowledge.  There are a plethora of technical resources and gurus out there.

Collaborate and listen Another alternative is collaboration.  There is a misconception among some professionals that if you refer your client to a different specialist, your client will think you're incompetent. This is far from the truth. You understand their needs and want the best outcome for them. In their mind, you’ve been elevated, not demoted. Find other professionals with different skill sets and collaborate for the common good.

Now what?

The first part of giving up your technical CPD addiction is admitting you have a problem and you need help.

The next thing you need to do is to fill the hole left by removing your excess technical education.  I recommend speaking to someone you know who has managed to break the mould and is winning by being different.

If you don’t know anyone who fits that criteria, contact me.  I can’t say I’m winning yet – but I’m sure I can point you in the right direction.

Rebel. Extend. Evolve.  

Kris Kitto
About The Author

Kris Kitto

Kris Kitto - Director at Superfund Wholesale. I really enjoy the opportunity to collaborate with other professionals, especially those who are pushing some boundaries and delivering their services in a new and fresh way. I truly believe that for us to move our industry forward, we need to focus on what COULD BE rather just accepting what we have in the present. That ideal of not being constrained by history, and looking to the future, is a big part of what I bring into our business and also the businesses of professionals I work with. Follow me on Twitter