Many advisers struggling to pass the adviser exam have asked me what I think of the option of transferring to a general advice licensee.

This is a way of circumventing the need to pass the FASEA adviser exam because the Code of Ethics only applies to personal advice provided to retail clients.  The Code doesn’t apply to general advice.

My advice is to think it through!  ASIC will be closely watching this trend.

One of the positives to come out of the adviser exam is that it has forced advisers to come to grips with the advice rules, and in particular, the difference between personal and general advice.

On 3rd February 2021, in an ASIC case against Westpac subsidiaries, the High Court of Australia clarified the difference between general and personal advice.

One of the main issues highlighted was the immense difficulties in providing one-to-one general advice to an existing personal advice client where their individual objectives and other relevant circumstances are already known.

I suppose the adviser argument in this instance would be that financial product information is forwarded to the client; making it clear to the client that it is general advice rather than personal advice; and the client would then be expected to follow the steps outlined in the accompanying general advice warning to make up their own mind to buy the product, or not.   By doing so, it would be argued that none of the client’s objectives, financial situation or needs were considered.

I see difficulties mounting this argument, given prior knowledge of client relevant circumstances, their personal advice history, the high level of expectation and trust that clients can place on their advisers; and the universal lack of understanding of the difference between personal and general advice.  It has been my experience that a significant proportion of advisers don’t understand the difference.  So how could could clients possibly understand it?

It is likely that ASIC’s argument, as it was in the Westpac case, will be that because the adviser already has the client’s objectives, financial situation and needs, “the reasonable person might expect the person giving or directing the advice to have considered one or more of these matters”.   In my opinion, this ‘reasonable person expectation’ test which forms the second part of the personal advice definition will prove to be potent in general advice cases.  

And then there’s the matter of deliberately providing general advice to avoid the personal advice disclosure and conduct obligations; or providing general advice where client relevant circumstances clearly warrant the provision of personal advice; and failing to refer it.  With or without the Best Interests Duty, advisers have common law obligations to clients.  In my view, it’s fraught with danger.

It would be much easier to stare down the adviser exam and continue providing personal advice than it will be to stare down ASIC.

Reference: 21-013MR ASIC successful against Westpac subsidiaries’ appeal to High Court


Adviser Exam Management Tips

The adviser exam is pitched at AQF7 level, which is basically 1st year University standard.  To pass, you will need at least 65%.

Unlike University exams where the lecturer and / or tutors set and mark the exam, the open-ended questions are farmed out to contract markers who did not set the exam.  Therefore, the markers are relying on the marking guides provided.

The parts that may trick you up are theoretical scenarios where the answers to the questions asked appear far from obvious.  For example, ‘what should most concern the adviser’ or ‘which question should the adviser ask first’.  Fortunately, this type of question appears to be the exception rather than the rule.

That said, the adviser exam is very passable, particularly if you prepare well.  Sometimes though, the best of preparations can come unstuck in the exam room.

So below I have provided some exam management tips for those who haven’t sat an exam in a while.

  1. Go to the exam with a good night’s sleep
  2. Music helps a lot of people stay calm, focused and positive before and exam
  3. It is natural to be nervous sitting an exam but your mindset should be one of confidence and a positive mindset, as in “this exam is not going to beat me”.
  4. Manage your time well. Aim to finish in 3 hours, leaving 15 minutes for review.
  5. Read the questions carefully and look at what is being asked. It sounds obvious but nervousness can result in superficial scanning when trying to take in a lot of information in moments.
  6. Expect at least one long convoluted scenario where the questions appear not to relate to the overload of client circumstances contained in the scenario.
  7. Also expect one or two ambiguous questions where two or more of the options presented look correct.
  8. Don’t place too much reliance on the fact that it is an open book exam. You won’t have a lot of time to scroll through legislation; and it can be a notorious time-waster.
  9. Don’t rely on CTRL F (finding key words in legislation) to work all the time.
  10. If you need look up legislation, consider doing it at the end, during your review time after you have finished the exam.
  11. You do not have to start at question 1. During reading time, find a couple of questions you can answer and start there.  That will ease your nerves and allow you to settle into the exam.
  12. When you answer the open-ended questions, don’t do dot points and don’t waffle on. Write in short sentences, as many as required.  Get straight to the point.  Remember there is a contract marker sitting out there with a marking guide.  Try to make it easy for them.
  13. No matter what happens – stay calm. Try to find that sweet spot of being totally engaged with the exam and shutting out everything else
  14. If you find yourself panicking, take a minute out and take slow deep breaths to calm yourself and then get back into the moment
  15. Don’t walk out of the exam if you finish early. Use the extra time wisely to look back over your answers and anything you didn’t answer.  Sometimes, things pop you’re your mind as you go through the exam.  This is the time to look up legislation if you need to.


A lot of advisers ask me how much time to devote to study in preparation for the adviser exam.  It really depends how much lead time you are giving yourself.  That is, how many weeks before the exam will you start to study.

In my view, the ideal is 12-weeks.  I know this time frame doesn’t work for everyone, however 12 weeks is enough time to get stuck into a structured program with regular study, and get the job done, but not too long that it feels like it is dragging on forever.

Another way of looking at it is that 12-weeks is the equivalent of a full time University semester.  If, in that scenario, you include a 3-hour lecture, a 1-hour tutorial and another 4-6 hours a week on assignments, you would be looking at a total of 8-10 hours a week minimum.

Preparing for the adviser exam isn’t much different.  There is an enormous amount of reading and the adviser exam itself is an AQF level 7 exam.  In other words, it is pitched at University Bachelor degree level.  So it is reasonable to approach it as you would any other full semester University subject.

I have designed my tutorial program as an 11-part program with an 88-question self-assess practice exam questions at the end.  That fits nicely into a 12-week study period with a week extra for revision.

As you work through the 11 tutorials, you will find the answer sheets provided are annotated with additional explanations and insights, which makes them a great set of notes for your final week of revision.

In addition, everyone who purchases the Home Tutorial & Exam Pack receives a Zoom invitation to a Pre-Exam Seminar (1-1.5 hours) on a Thursday, one week out from the start of each exam period.  In this seminar I go through tips for final preparation, types of exam question asked, experiences of other advisers, and for those you need it, some tips for managing the exam.  It is important that you manage the exam and it doesn’t manage you.

I have noticed that many advisers start their exam preparation 6 weeks out or less.  This means that you need to devote double the time each week to study.  The danger of leaving yourself too little time to prepare is that there is such a lot of information to cover, it becomes difficult to absorb.

When you get into the exam, you don’t want your head spinning with partly digested information.  The aim is to have a good, solid understanding of the advice rules and associated obligations.  Firstly, it makes it a lot easier to reason your way through the questions; and secondly, you can largely avoid scrolling through legislation in the exam which you will have very little time to do.

The adviser exam is a tricky challenge.  But as always, success is always in the preparation.  So take the time you need, give it one shot with everything you have, and put it behind you forever.

Photo Credit: Min An