What are the syllabus changes to the 20/21 AF7 exam?

Bowie famously told us to ‘Turn and face the strange changes’. While that is usually a painful process (think COVID and the changes that has brought about for many). I am delighted to report that it isn’t the case when it comes to the updated CII AF7 study text.

There have been no major overhauls or updates but there has been a ‘rejigging’ of the content and the language.


Taking an example from learning outcome 2.4 from the quick reference guide at the start of the study text

In the 2019/20 paper, learning outcome 2.4 is worded as follows:

“Explain how the following may impact pension income and death benefits”. The text then goes on to list the topics that you would need to explain in an exam sitting – investment risk, safe withdrawal rate etc etc.

In comparison, the 2020/21 syllabus words learning outcome 2.4 as

‘Understand the importance of the following factors when advising on a potential pension transfer’. The same list of points is then outlined.

To me this feels like a move away from a ‘learn these points to pass an exam’ approach to much more rounded and complete ‘understand how this process works at a fundamental level so that you can best serve your clients once you have passed this exam’


You are covering the same points but with a very different mindset which is the point of any exam;

That is, the aim isn’t to tell your prospective clients that you have passed X Y Z, but rather to be able to use your knowledge and expertise gained from the long hours of study to ask the best (and often, difficult) questions of your clients so that you can fully understand their present situation.

To understand their need (or desire) to transfer from a defined benefit scheme, to better understand any glaring biases that they have towards transferring and retirement and hopefully convey these often hidden biases to your clients too.

The change of wording may seem like a very small tweak over all (it is, after all, just a change in language around the same topics) but I think that it is a pivotal shift for those of us who are sitting these exams.

It should never be a case of study with the sole purpose of a pass.

The goal isn’t to be a chartered financial planner, the goal is to be an adviser knowledgeable enough to ask the questions of your clients that make them think. To ask questions that challenge their existing thinking.

Questions to make them pause for reflection or to make them realise that a £750,000 DB isn’t actually what they need (or want?) despite the sheer size of the transfer.

It just so happens that the road to getting chartered, and these tricky advanced level  exams are what give us the tools to ask these very same questions.

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If you are studying towards the new Certificate in Pension Transfers (consisting of AF7,  R01 (Financial Services, Regulation and Ethics), R02 (Investment Principles and Risk) and R04 (Pensions and Retirement Planning) or are working your way towards Chartered then we have everything you need in order to pass this exam.

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