Taking the CFA & What You Should Know About It


Investment Banking
Feb 4, 2016
US college
I have good news and bad news. The good news is the investment management industry continues to grow and will always need high quality university graduates to join its ranks. The bad news is the price of entry involves ongoing study whilst working in the industry, and there is only one qualification the vast majority of employers are looking for in their junior employees; the CFA charter.

So what is the CFA charter and why is it so respected in the global financial industry? CFA stands for Chartered Financial Analyst, and the program behind the qualification “sets the standard as the most highly respected designation in the investment management profession”. The course comprises three levels with each level taking a year to complete, and is eligible for graduates or students in their final year of a bachelor degree program. In addition to passing all three levels of the program, to qualify as a Chartered Financial Analyst all candidates must also have at least four years experience in an investment decision-making role.

This may sound like relatively a normal professional development path. After all, most professional industries require ongoing study from their graduates whilst they are working. However, I have not yet got to the interesting part. The real reason attaining the CFA charter is so challenging is because the pass rate for each level is extremely low relative to other professional courses. The pass rate varies each year and for each level but the ten year average (’06-’15) provides a good guide (source: CFA Institute):

Level 1 - 39% pass rate

Level 2 - 43% pass rate

Level 3 - 53% pass rate

Pass rates this low imply that well under 20% of candidates pass all three levels without failing a single level. This may seem like a brutally low proportion but at the end of the day this is the number one reason the CFA qualification is so well respected globally. Becoming a CFA charter holder means you have a solid working knowledge of most financial theory; you are fluent in the language of finance. However, arguably more importantly it means you are someone who is hard working, motivated and possess an ability to handle the pressures of the industry. Working in investment management requires perseverance and discipline, and the CFA qualification is an effective method of filtering the right people into the industry.

At this point, the obvious question for all of you is how much work is required to pass all three levels without failing? The standard industry response is that each level should take around 200 hours of study to pass. However, in my opinion the answer is different for everyone and depends on study methods. One effective time saving strategy is to buy one of the study note summaries rather than the text books. Everything you need to know is in the summaries, and in my opinion the course material is far more digestible in this format than in the twenty odd text books used in each course level. I found the Schweser study notes very useful when I was studying CFA.

The final question you may be asking is: what is in it for me if I become a CFA charter holder? After over 15 years working in the investment management industry I believe the answer is clear; it will dramatically enhance your career prospects. I have never seen a graduate who completed the CFA qualification who did not further their career prospects. In my experience the real reason for this is generally not about the knowledge CFA charter holders gain through the process (which is no doubt useful), it is more importantly a statement of your dedication, professional ambition and ultimately employability. In my opinion all of you with investment management ambitions should start the course as soon as possible.
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Management Consulting
Dec 21, 2022
Try to start your CFA journey early, ideally at uni when you have more time to prepare (trust me, leaning when working 70 hour weeks is no fun) and quite a bit of finance knowledge is still fresh on your mind. Most CFAs I know say that prep for Level 3 is slightly easier next to a full-time job.
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