In short, the Series 7 license exam is substantially easier than the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) exam. It takes only a fraction of the time to prepare for the Series 7 exam compared to the CFA exams, and the material is not nearly as difficult or extensive.

CFA Exam

The CFA Institute issues the CFA charter to people who can pass its rigorous requirements. An individual with a CFA can enter a number of different financial careers, including:

• Investment management

• Portfolio analysis

• Buy-side trading

• Sell-side analysis (investment banking)

• Academia

• Economist

• Financial advising

People sometimes compare the CFA study program to obtaining a Master's of Business Administration (MBA), except that it is much more specialized in investments. To obtain a CFA, an individual must meet all of the requirements set forth by the CFA Institute, including:

• Passing all three levels of the CFA exam

• Obtaining four years of “acceptable professional work experience”

• Becoming a member of the CFA Institute, which requires an affiliation with a local chapter

CFA holders feel that the program's most challenging facet is fulfilling the educational requirement. Candidates must pass three exams of progressive difficulty, and can only take one test per year. The CFA Institute suggests a minimum of 250 hours of study time for each test. It offers the level I exam twice a year, during the late spring and late fall, while it offers levels II and III only once each year, during the late spring.

The CFA program's low passing rate indicates the exams’ difficulty. Between 40% and 65% of candidates pass the three exams in a year, which translates into a 30% success rate for candidates passing all three exams.

Series 7 License Exam

The primary difference between the Series 7 and the CFA is that one is a license while the other is a certification. Passing the Series 7 exam is the only requirement for obtaining a Series 7 license, and the only prerequisite for taking the exam is a FINRA member's sponsorship. A Series 7 license is necessary for those who plan to engage in the solicitation, purchase or sale of securities products, which includes stocks, bonds, mutual funds, options, direct participation programs and variable contracts.

The exam has two parts, which are taken over a six-hour period. It has 250 questions that cover the five main job functions of a Series 7 licensed representative.

• Function 1: Seeks business for the broker-dealer through customers and potential customers

• Function 2: Evaluates customers’ other security holdings, financial situation and needs, financial status, tax status and investment objective

• Function 3: Opens accounts, transfers assets and maintains appropriate account records

• Function 4: Provides customers with information on investments and makes suitable recommendations

• Function 5: Obtains and verifies customers’ purchases and sales instructions, enters orders and follows up

Most Series 7 exam preparation courses suggest 80 to 100 hours of study time, including live practice exams and at least 1,000 practice questions. Unlike the CFA exams, which cover case studies, financial and investment theories and quantitative math, the Series 7 exam involves memorizing S.E.C. regulations and some basic math. A 72% score is necessary to pass the exam, and its passing rate is greater than 70%.


There really is no comparison between the two exams. Although some Series 7-licensed investment advisors also hold a CFA charter, most careers requiring a CFA don’t require a Series 7 license. Difficulty levels aside, the exams prepare individuals for two different career paths. CFAs tend to work in academics, research or investment management, while Series 7-licensed people tend to work in sales. Pursuing a CFA requires a higher level of commitment to become the one in three people to get through the program.