When securities regulators begin offering remote exams for securities licenses later this month, it could be a change that transcends the immediate need for social distancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Inc. and the North American Securities Administrators Association will launch on May 24 online testing for the following qualification exams: Securities Industry Essentials, Series 6, 7, 63, 65 and 66.
Candidates can begin scheduling tests on May 11. They can be conducted on a personal or firm-issued computer with a camera. The tests are usually taken in-person at Prometric testing sites. Prometric will administer and proctor the online exams “through the camera and other online tools,” the Finra website states.
The move to virtual testing could last beyond the coronavirus outbreak.
“I don’t know how they can go back” to only in-person testing, said Doug Vincens, vice president of financial services at Kaplan Professional. “The convenience of remote testing is very compelling. The genie is out of the bottle.”
Most people preparing for the exams are already studying online, so taking a virtual test gives them certainty about their timeline that they may not have if they have to arrange an in-person exam, said Brian Marks, president of Knopman Marks Financial Training.
Most industry newcomers should be able to make the transition to online testing seamlessly.
“They’re already familiar with remote testing if they’re coming from college and are comfortable with that type of technology if they’re career changers,” Vincens said.
In addition, online test taking can dovetail with virtual onboarding and remote working that many financial firms are already doing because of the pandemic.
“If a candidate can take the test at home, it’s a win-win for everybody,” Marks said.
Online qualifying exams once seemed like a far-off goal. Marks used to joke that when his 8-year-old daughter was ready to take one, she could do it online.
But that timeline has been accelerated by the pandemic. Finra and NASAA are conducting an online testing trial before the launch later this month.
“While still in the very early stages, from our point of view the remote testing pilot is going fairly well,” NASAA spokesman Bob Webster wrote in an email. “We will continue to monitor developments in the remote testing process and engage with Finra as more candidates take exams on a remote basis.”
In-person testing will still be available. Prometric will open some testing centers in limited geographic locations as early as this month, the Finra statement said. But “capacity will be limited due to social distancing requirements.”
Many challenges surround remote testing – from security to blocking out distractions candidates may have at home that wouldn’t confront them at a testing center. Nonetheless, remote testing likely will be part of the new normal.
“What’s the ultimate mix of remote and in-person testing? It’s an interesting puzzle,” Vincens said.
The migration to online testing also will influence test preparation. Marks said a combination of virtual classes and self-guided instruction likely is optimal.
“We’re using this as an opportunity to enhance the online learning experience,” Marks said.