Eight hundred hours of graduate level study, successful completion of three rigorous examinations, four years of relevant work experience, adherence to a well-honed code of ethics and standards of professional conduct. The respondent, familiar with these requirements and having satisfied all of them, is a CFA charterholder who has devoted, sacrificed even, years of his or her life in the pursuit of professional investing excellence. Approximately one in five entrants into the program sees it through to completion. But in a crowded job market, in a profession held in rather low esteem by the public of late, is all of the effort devoted to obtaining the CFA worth it?

What the CFA Means
A CFA charterholder is intellectually curious, professionally passionate and constantly striving to learn more to round out his or her professional competence in the field. Financial service employers recognize the value that a charterholder brings to the workplace, as evidenced by many finance job advertisements that either request or require that the applicant be a CFA charterholder or candidate.

Unlike a Masters in Business Administration, which can vary significantly in content, rigor and reputation, the CFA is a professional certification conferred by one organization only - the CFA Institute, which is a non-profit, professional association and voice of the asset management and research field. The CFA institute creates, administers and tests a curriculum that strives for perpetual relevance in a dizzyingly complex world. More important, still, is the international remit of the Institute and its exam.

The language of finance may be English, but the practice of finance is decidedly global and competitive. Practitioners need a gilt-edged label that weds knowledge to practice across the globe. The CFA charter fits the bill, in more ways than one. For the three years inclusive of the one-time matriculation fee, it costs less than US$3,000, not unreasonable when compared to a graduate business degree that can foot to in excess of $50,000.

What a CFA Does
What does a typical charterholder do? There are numerous occupations available to a CFA, and new uses for the tools developed in the rigorous exams that are constantly being updated by experts and generalists to reflect the current financial environment. A long development period guards against quality degradation. The candidate body of knowledge derives from the global financial body of investment knowledge and is grounded in a professional practice that is ever changing. Examples of charterholder careers include, but are not limited to: portfolio manager, investment analyst, risk analyst, chief investment officer, performance measurement analyst, risk manager and private wealth counselor.

Candidates learn along a continuum, beginning with knowledge and comprehension of key areas and concepts, such as asset classes, economics and financial accounting (Level I and II), to application and analysis of what was learned (Level I to III), culminating in synthesis and evaluation of key areas of practice (Level II and III), such as wealth planning and portfolio management on an institutional and individual level. The learning is not so much sequential as evolving, assuming greater depth as the examinations progress.

Charterholders are subject to voluntary continuing education, or professional development credits that may be earned through attendance of lectures or presentations, reading of articles or books, or listening to podcasts. Content for any one of these must be of sufficient academic rigor to earn credit. The CFA Institute's website is a veritable treasure trove of knowledge for the candidate and charterholder.

The Bottom Line
Finance teems with professional certifications. Celebrating its 50th anniversary, the brainchild of legendary value investor, Benjamin Graham, stands out as the gold standard, exemplifying investment management as not only a business, but also, and more importantly, as a profession with ascertainable standards. Those aspiring to a career in finance should view the charter as indispensable.

Related Articles
  1. Professionals

    What To Expect On The CFA Level III Exam

    The Level III exam is one of the tougher exams for the CFA. Read this to give yourself a little insight.
  2. Professionals

    IRS Special Enrollment Examination (SEE) Study Guide

    The enrolled agent status is the highest credential awarded by the IRS.
  3. Personal Finance

    Top 10 Most Valuable Sports Teams in 2015

    Cleats, pads and profits: we take a look at the top 10 most valuable sports teams in the world.
  4. Professionals

    Tips on Building a Resume for a Private Equity Job

    Trying to land a job in the coveted private equity sector? Ensure your resume meets the stringent PE job requirements with these important tips.
  5. Professionals

    Chinese Slowdown Affects Iron Ore Market

    The Chinese economy's ongoing slowdown is having a major impact on iron ore demand.
  6. Personal Finance

    Does It Make Sense to Go to College in Europe?

    If you're deciding whether to get a degree abroad, first do your research and talk to alumni who have completed the same program.
  7. Personal Finance

    A Day in the Life of an Equity Research Analyst

    What does an equity research analyst do on an everyday basis?
  8. Investing

    Career Choice: Bulge Bracket Vs. Boutique Bank

    Bulge bracket banks offer higher salaries and prestige. But boutique banks are rapidly gaining market share and may offer better work/life balance and job security.
  9. Personal Finance

    Careers: Equity Research Vs. Investment Banking

    Equity research is sometimes viewed as the unglamorous, lower-paid cousin to investment banking. In this article, we compare the two careers.
  10. Investing

    7 Reasons You Will Make a Good Investment Banker

    Many seek at the door of investment banking, but few can enter. Possessing these seven traits will help you land a job and succeed in investment banking.
RELATED TERMS
  1. Investment Banker

    Someone working at an institution raising capital for companies, ...
  2. Series 6

    A securities license entitling the holder to register as a limited ...
  3. Advanced Diploma In Insurance

    A qualification earned by insurance professionals and conferred ...
  4. Associate In Personal Insurance ...

    A designation earned by professionals looking for training in ...
  5. Associate In Reinsurance (ARe)

    A designation earned by insurance professionals looking for reinsurance ...
  6. Associate In Surplus Lines Insurance ...

    A designation earned by insurance professionals involved with ...
RELATED FAQS
  1. What type of work experience can count towards the work experience required in order ...

    CFA Institute provides a list of job titles that qualify for the work experience an individual must gain to be awarded with ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. Can I use my IRA to pay for my college loans?

    If you are older than 59.5 and have been contributing to your IRA for more than five years, you may withdraw funds to pay ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. Can I use my 401(k) to pay for my college loans?

    If you are over 59.5, or separate from your plan-sponsoring employer after age 55, you are free to use your 401(k) to pay ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. How can an investment banker switch to a career in corporate finance?

    It's pretty easy for an investment banker to switch to a career in corporate finance. The career skills are easily transferable, ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. What are the best MBA programs for corporate finance?

    Opinions vary based on which publications you consult, but the best MBA programs for a career in corporate finance are at ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. How stressful is the typical corporate finance job?

    In the financial industry, corporate finance jobs are often contrasted with investment banking jobs. The traditional view ... Read Full Answer >>

You May Also Like

Trading Center
×

You are using adblocking software

Want access to all of Investopedia? Add us to your “whitelist”
so you'll never miss a feature!