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SJP’s virtual reality training scheme

The programme is accused of lacking the human touch.
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St James’s Place (SJP) has rolled out a virtual reality (VR) training programme, but industry participants are concerned that it risks advisers missing out on valuable in-person contact, reports our sister publication, Portfolio Adviser.

The programme, unveiled by SJP’s learning and development (L&D) team, uses VR and augmented reality (AR) technology to help facilitate training and role playing for its adviser trainees.

Trainees are provided with headsets that allow them to experience the role of an adviser and engage in conversations with virtual clients through a series of multiple-choice questions (see image above).

They can then watch the encounter back to increase their understanding from a client’s point of view and receive feedback by hearing clients’ thoughts played out.

‘Leaves me craving human interaction’

Langcat consulting director Mike Barrett said it is great to see investment in adviser learning and development programmes and making this sort of training accessible to anyone from any location is positive.

But he added: “I have to say the thought of learning via interactions in a virtual world leaves me feeling cold and craving human interaction.”

Similarly, Boring Money founder and chief executive Holly Mackay said coaching and training is vital, but she questioned whether empathy and human connection can really be taught using a headset.

“If I overcome my initial scepticism, it could possibly be used to gently force some people to see conversations from the perspective of someone very different. For example, we know that many women still feel left out of the discussions by some financial advisers,” Mackay added.

“However, it mostly makes me feel like I do when my children try to persuade me that their music is fabulous: old and grumpy.”

CWC Research managing director Clive Waller said without knowing more at this stage, his concerns are around how it impacted networking between students and trainers.

“If they can deliver more and better training without any aspects lost, all luck to them,” he added.

Trainees work from any location at their own pace

SJP first introduced VR role playing in September through the SJP Academy. Alongside in-person teaching, SJP said it provides a blend of face-to-face and remote-based learning adopted during the pandemic.

The wealth manager added reducing the need for solely classroom learning means financial planning training becomes more accessible as trainees are able to work from any location at their own pace. It said the programme has enabled the academy to double its intake this year to 400 delegates across 22 locations.

SJP divisional director of learning and development Di Macdonald said: “The intention is to give people a safe space to practice in, so that they can gain confidence without the need for access to trainers, coaches or peers. It also enables us to utilise resources more effectively and train more people in a shorter space of time.”

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