If you’re interested in pursuing a career in finance, odds are you’ve already heard of the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) certification. A colleague registered in a CFA course may have spoken to you about it, or you may have seen it listed as a requirement for that dream job you’ve always wanted.
No matter how you learned about being a CFA, by now, you probably know that it’s the gateway to an entirely different career trajectory, expert-level knowledge, and higher earning potential in the finance field.
But what exactly is the CFA? How do you go about earning it? And what opportunities and benefits can you expect as a CFA holder? Read on to find out.
The CFA is a prestigious credential given to someone who wants to become a chartered financial analyst or an investment professional. It is granted by the CFA Institute, a nonprofit organization that aims to promote the highest standards of ethics, education and professional excellence in the finance industry.
CFA holders are seen as top-level experts in the finance world. Their real-world investment analysis skills and detailed grasp of intricate financial concepts like portfolio management, wealth planning and asset valuation make them highly sought-after recruits by employers.
The CFA Institute lays out four steps to get Chartered Financial Analyst certification. These include:
- Passing all three levels of the CFA exam along with the applicable practical skills modules.
- Completing work experience requirements before, during, or after enrolling in the Chartered Financial Analyst certification.
- Submitting two-three professional references who will be asked to comment on your work experience and professional conduct.
- Applying to become a member of the CFA Institute.
For most finance and investment professionals, the challenge to earning this golden credential lies primarily in its most critical requirement: passing all three levels of the CFA exam.
Candidates have reported spending an average of 300 hours of preparation for each level, with Level I taking around 303 hours, Level II 328 hours, and Level III 344 hours. This means you’ll have to make a serious commitment to studying if you want those three letters behind your name.
Additionally, each level of the curriculum builds on the previous one, which is why they must be taken in consecutive order.
The curriculum of the CFA covers a wide variety of topics, including:
- Ethical and professional standards
- Quantitative methods
- Economics and financial reporting
- Corporate issuers
- Equity investments
- Fixed income
- Alternative investments
- Portfolio management and wealth planning
You’d also be happy to know there’s no limit to the time you have to finish the CFA Program. With each level you pass, the results will remain valid until you decide to start the next one.
You can take each exam level twice per year, with six maximum attempts per exam level.
Before you exert time and effort in taking the exams, you must also consider the professional experience required to meet the CFA Institute’s criteria.
To qualify, you must have accrued at least 4,000 hours of experience, concluded in a minimum of 36 months. Those hours must be spent being involved in investment decision-making processes or producing a product that adds value to those processes.
Thankfully, the CFA Institute is flexible with the kind of experience you can count toward your 4,000 hours of work. Full-time, part-time or remote work employment are all acceptable. And as mentioned, you canfulfill the requirements before, during or after participating in the CFA Program.
Applying for a CFA Institute membership is the final step in the certification process. At this point, you’ll be asked to provide two to three professional references and submit detailed work descriptions of your experience for evaluation.
Once your application is accepted, you’ll pay the membership fees and claim your place among the elite CFA charter holders.
There are many benefits to becoming a CFA charter holder. Here are some of the most prominent ones:
While nothing on your resume can guarantee a job offer, being a CFA holder is one of the closest things to making it happen. Earning this credential communicates to employers that you have the necessary discipline, analytical abilities and work ethic to bring real value to their business.
And according to the CFA Institute, the following are the types of career opportunities you can look forward to as a CFA-certified professional:
- Research analyst
- Risk analyst
- Forex currency trader
- Financial analyst
- Private wealth manager
- Investment consultant
- Investment banker
- Portfolio manager
- Chief investment officer
The CFA Institute has a global network of 170,000+ charter holders. And the CFA certificate itself is recognized by 60+ regulators in over 40 markets worldwide. This is not to mention the number of global universities incorporating the CFA program into their curriculum.
So, once you become a CFA, you can explore career opportunities in various countries and industries, all while confident of the respect and recognition your new credential will earn.
The CFA charter is often viewed as a more specialized business qualification when compared to other credentials. An MBA, for example, is a widely renowned degree that covers a wide range of topics. Still, it doesn’t necessarily focus on financial analysis and investment management like the CFA.
Being a CFA holder equips you with analytical skills and proficiency in areas like quantitative methods, economics, modern accounting standards, investment analysis, and portfolio management. These skills and areas of expertise are valuable assets that will serve you well throughout your career.
The CFA designation can also enhance your earning prospects. One study found that being a CFA charter holder can increase your salary by up to 47%.
While that’s by no means a guarantee, it’s safe to say that having a CFA under your belt grants you an undeniable edge in terms of job opportunities and salary level over your non-CFA counterparts.
As you can see, becoming a CFA charter holder takes time, discipline and grit, but the rewards are well worth it. Nowadays, there are cost-effective online CFA prep courses that can help you prepare for the exam on time, and you won’t have to struggle to balance your job and studying.
Sign up and take the CFA journey confidently to join the ranks of the world’s top finance professionals.