Richard Burden MP told a reception of motor finance providers, dealers and industry experts that qualifications such as the Finance and Leasing Association’s (FLA) Specialist Automotive Finance (SAF) Advanced qualification will only become more important as the industry advances.

Burden was speaking at an FLA reception at the House of Commons, to celebrate the first batch of graduates from the SAF Advanced qualification, as it comes up to its first years anniversary.

SAF Advanced is the more advanced qualification of the Specialist Automotive Finance qualification, and was designed as a ‘next step’ for those looking to further their knowledge and experience. Since it launched in June 2015, 32 entrants have gained the qualification.

Prior to the event, Adrian Dally, head of motor finance at the FLA, said: "It’s almost a year since we launched the qualification, and a perfect opportunity for us to congratulate the first tranche of successful candidates while encouraging others in the industry to consider taking the qualification themselves."

At the reception David Stanton, compliance director at Cargiant, revealed that in the future all Cargiant business managers will be required to pass the qualification.

Stanton, who has worked at Cargiant for 20 years, said: "The one consistent factor over my time in the industry has been the consumer-led desire and need for dealers to provide finance. As such it would not surprise me at all if the regulator requires mandatory level three training for business managers within the motor industry, as is the case in the mortgage sector. At Cargiant we want to be prepared for such an eventuality."

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The SAF Advanced qualification is rated as being a level three qualification, which is viewed as being roughly equivalent to an A level (though this is a very rough approximation). The original SAF is a level two qualification.

Of Cargiant’s 19 business managers, 11 have so far passed their exams, and Stanton said the company was hoping the remaining eight will complete the course in the near future.

"I would highly recommend that any dealership or finance provider take a closer look at this qualification.

"We are already seeing the benefits from those who have gone through the course. They’re more confident about selling finance, and better equipped to do so."

One of the business managers who has passed the qualification is Jonathan Holdsworth.

Speaking at the reception, Holdsworth said he was initially sceptical about taking the qualification, as he felt he already knew how to do his job, and was worried about committing the hours.

However, he added: "It didn’t take long for me to see the bigger picture."

"Due to the product range we supply at Cargiant, not every part of the syllabus was applicable. However it means we can discuss these topics confidently with our customers. You can offer better advice to customers because you can see the bigger picture.

"It’s definitely helped my job. I’m more knowledgeable about the industry in general, and finance regulation in particular. There is a massive difference between the standard test and the SAF advanced," he concluded.

The event also saw Richard Burden MP speak about why the increasing complexity of the motor industry is making advanced qualifications increasingly necessary for finance.

Looking ahead, he said it was uncertain whether in the future cars would be metal boxes with increasingly sophisticated information systems attached to them, or increasingly sophisticated information systems with metal boxes attached to them.

He said: "How that pans out is going to be a challenge for all of us. It offers huge potential and opportunities, but also really big challenges. I was talking to the Institute of the Motor Industry people a while ago, and they were talking, just in relation to maintenance, about the kind of qualification required, and how you accredit those. It’s something really important for them."

He added that, as the world progresses and the meaning of a vehicle changes; as views on ownership change and what leasing and renting means also change, these kinds of qualification will become increasingly important to the sale of finance.

Burden concluded: "All of this will present really big challenges to you as people involved directly in the financing of the customer experience in the automotive industry."

"You need to be ahead of the game in terms of your knowledge. The customer needs you to be there as well, to be able to demystify and explain things, to help them navigate new areas of financing and how they do the purchase. It’s an industry that will offer huge potential in the future as well as great complexity.

"If something like SAF Advanced wasn’t necessary before, it’s absolutely necessary now, and will become more necessary in the future."