Ofsted comes down hard on UK’s leading firm of financial compliance advisers

A company claiming to be the UK’s largest compliance support and business consultancy provider for financial services has been rapped by Ofsted.

New Model Business Academy (NMBA), the not-for-profit training arm of SimplyBiz, has made ‘insufficient progress’ in two areas of its provision to 113 apprentices on level 4 financial adviser and paraplanner standards, during an early monitoring visit.

SimplyBiz, which is registered on the London Stock Exchange, won the award for ‘Best Support Services for Advisers’ at the 2018 Professional Adviser awards; and it provides regulatory support and, partly through NMBA, professional development to advisers, according to its website.

Yet inspectors found NMBA’s leaders and managers “do not provide a sufficiently structured programme to enable apprentices to develop their knowledge, skills and behaviours” and “they only review apprentices’ performance in passing examinations”.

Also, “too many apprentices” continue on their programme after their planned end date, as apprenticeship development managers rely on the learners to identify when they find things difficult or when they fail exams.

As a consequence of this focus on exams, the watchdog also observed, apprentices do not develop the broader skills financial advisers need.

Apprenticeship development managers do not consider an apprentices’ prior knowledge and skills very well, as in cases where apprentices have already passed modules, they follow the same learning programme and study topics on which they have already been assessed.

“Too many” employers, which are based across England, are unaware of the progress their learners’ are making, so they are unable to support them when they fall behind.

Rather than apprenticeship development managers sending frequent, helpful information on learners’ progress, employers have to seek feedback from the provider, the report reads.

NMBA launched its apprenticeship programme just over 18 months ago, and its joint managing director Richard Ardron said his company “welcomed” the Ofsted report and expected to have made all the necessary improvements within three months.

“In the meantime, we continue to work both with firms and their apprentices to ensure that everyone has the very best support as they progress through the programme,” he added.

“In much the same way as it is for our apprentices, this is a new journey for us which requires us to develop our learning and meet the needs of third-party assessors.

“We have taken on board the feedback and are already working to make improvements; which students and their employing firms should see almost immediately.”

Inspectors did complement NMBA’s leaders and managers for a “clear rationale for the delivery of apprenticeships in the financial sector”, and for using their sector experience to meet a growing demand for financial advisers and paraplanners.

Appropriate candidates are recruited for apprenticeships, and managers ensure they have a sufficient number of staff, who are highly experienced in the financial sector, for delivering training.

Ofsted also found the provider was making ‘reasonable progress’ in safeguarding, as leaders and managers had put in place clear policies for that area, and for ‘Prevent’.

The designated safeguarding lead had appropriate training and all staff undergo annual safeguarding and ‘Prevent’ training.

Any provider found making ‘insufficient progress’ in an early monitoring report is usually suspended from recruiting, until it improves to at least ‘requires improvement’ in a full Ofsted inspection.