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One of the most haunting questions in a candidate who wishes to purse CFA charter is if it’s really worth putting all the effort into it while working half as hard a degree like MBA can be obtained or with just as much hardwork he/she can be a CPA.

According to the CFA Institute, the following is the amount of time needed to obtain the CFA designation:

  • Four years, on average, to complete the program

  • Six months of preparation for each exam

  • 250 hours minimum of study time (10-15 hours per week)

Many candidates cannot get the designation whether it is due to lack of academic or professional skills or familial responsibilities. Compare this commitment to the MBA. After being accepted into an institution and following the course of study in an average of four semesters, most students receive a diploma. The CFA program is self–study; as such, there is certainly a lower likelihood of success.

However, the decision to pursue either achievement should not be based on the length of time, difficulty, or certainty of completing them, but instead on where they provide the most value, personally or professionally.

The same cannot be said when deciding between the CFA and other specialized business certifications, including the Certified Financial Planner (CFP) and CPA. Because the CPA, a specialization within the accounting industry, is so very different from the CFA, anyone who is challenged with making a decision between them is someone who really hasn't decided what type of career they wish to pursue.

Where CFAs Work

The following skills are valued by employers and can be identified by the CFA course of study. A student has to pass three levels of CFA exam, before obtaining the CFA charter. Although all three exams focus on different aspects of the course, the main topics are indicated by the CFA Candidate Body of Knowledge (CBOK), as follows:

  1. Ethical and Professional Standards

  2. Quantitative Methods

  3. Economics

  4. Financial Reporting and Analysis

  5. Corporate Finance

  6. Equity Investments

  7. Fixed Income

  8. Derivatives

  9. Alternative Investments

  10. Portfolio Management and Wealth Planning

CFA Charter Requirements

As the chart shows, the majority of CFA professions fall under the distinction of "other." Although portfolio managers, research analysts and executives are the most popular careers, the wide variety of jobs available to CFAs contributes to such a large "other" category. The CFA Institute provides the following breakdown:

  • 22% Portfolio Manager

  • 16% Research Analyst

  • 7% Chief Executive

  • 6% Consultant

  • 5% Corporate Financial Analyst

  • 5% Financial Advisor

  • 5% Relationship Managers, Sales, & Marketing

  • 5% Risk Manager

  • 4% Investment Banking Analyst

  • 3% Manager of Managers

  • 3% Accountant/Auditor

  • 3% Strategist

  • 3% Trader

  • 1% Broker

  • 1% Performance Measurement Specialist

  • 1% Private Banker

Also included in the CFA's profession list was a small percentage of CFA charter holders who are currently unemployed, or otherwise don't fall into the previously listed professions, as follows:

  • 5% Other

  • 4% Unemployed

  • 2% Retired

  • 1% Student

Look to Where Growth Is Needed for CFAs

Comparing the salaries of the CFA Charter holders with other credentials/diplomas will give a rough idea about the industry value of the CFA program. The CFA Institute conducts compensation surveys that cover many countries; but these surveys are only available to CFA Institute members. If you are not a member but are interested in knowing the salary differentials, you can contact the local analyst society whose information can be found on the CFA institute’s website.

The value of CFA is increasing across the globe with industries realizing the importance of hiring CFAs in their firms.

The Bottom Line:

There is significant data that shows that CFA credential is valued more than most designations. Although extremely difficult to obtain, the value of the credential varies with the industry and the type of business you are in which is a bit narrow.

Whether CFA is the right choice for you can only be answered by you with a lot of introspect and research. One thing is for sure, if you decide to go for CFA, you need to make sure you’re willing to put your heart and soul into it mixed with a lot of time.


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