The qualification tests for several occupations in the financial services industry, formerly known as the Series exams, have been streamlined into one initial exam called the Securities Industry Essentials Exam—or the SIE Exam. Back in 2015, Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) streamlined its testing structure by consolidating the fundamental knowledge shared across several of the Series exams into the SIE. Candidates can then take an additional "top-off" qualification exam for the specific field they hope to enter.
- The SIE dramatically altered the structure of the various existing qualification exams.
- You do not need to be affiliated with a FINRA member firm in order to take the SIE.
- If you already passed one of the FINRA exams and are registered as a representative you do not need to take the SIE.
Changes in Securities Industries Essentials Exam (SIE) Qualifications
The SIE had a major structural impact on the qualification exams. The SIE replaces portions of every previous exam, including the Series 6, Series 7, Series 22, Series 55/56 (replaced by Series 57), Series 79, Series 82, Series 86/87, and Series 99. These tests were shrunken, becoming qualification exams that focus on the specialized knowledge needed for each particular qualification.
Top-off exams are offered for the following representative categories:
- Investment Company Representative (IR) – Series 6
- General Securities Representative (GS) – Series 7
- DPP Representative (DR) – Series 22
- Securities Trader (TD) – Series 57
- Investment Banking Representative (IB) – Series 79
- Private Securities Offerings Representative (PR) – Series 82
- Research Analyst (RS) – Series 86 & 87
- Operations Professional (OS) – Series 99
Overall, this was clearly an effort to remove some of the duplicated information in the tests, but it also opened the door to a much more important change to the process of qualification, which is no longer having to be associated with a FINRA member firm to take the SIE.
Under the former FINRA rules, you generally needed to be employed or otherwise sponsored by a FINRA member in order to take the exams. The SIE removes this requirement, although you still have to be associated with a FINRA member firm to take the top-off exams. This means that an individual can choose to start on the path towards a FINRA qualification on their own.
Successfully taking the SIE doesn't guarantee anyone a successfully break into the financial industry, but it is safe to say that passing it prior to looking for a job may give you an edge as a prospective employer only needs to sponsor the top-off exam to get you qualified for a particular role.
FINRA supported the idea that recent graduates and people looking to get into the industry should take the SIE on their own. They’ve made it more attractive by extending the validity of the SIE to four years, giving a generous window for passing participants to then find a firm to sponsor the top-off exams. FINRA member firms are able to see who has passed the exam via the Central Registration Depository (CRD).
SIE and Top Off-Exams as Replacements
In their original Securities and Exchange Commission filings, FINRA targeted the fall of 2016 to early 2017 for a rollout of their highest volume exams. This proved to be a bit optimistic. There were several shifts in the scheduling, one resulting from the requests of member firms and industry associations for more time to set their own processes in accordance with the new structure. The SIE and top-off exam rollout took place on October 1, 2018 and was accompanied by the retirement of multiple low volume exams, such as the Series 42 and Series 62.
Originally, March 2018 was targeted for the implementation of the SIE and top-offs for Series 6, 7, and 79. October 1, 2018 became the date for a complete overhaul rather than a phased-in approach. Adding to some of the confusion was part of the attempt to modernize; the Series 55 was replaced by the Series 57, although it still appeared in the original notice for the SIE updates. That update was simply a standard part of FINRA reviewing and tweaking curriculum, rather than part of an overhaul of any core knowledge.
Structure of the SIE Exam
The SIE exam structure is largely based on the general knowledge components of the exams it replaced that portion for. In January 2018, FINRA provided more details on the structure. The sections and question count are as follows:
|The Makeup of the SIE Exam|
of Exam Questions
|(1) Knowledge of Capital Market||16%||12|
|(2) Understanding Products and Their Risks||44%||33|
|(3) Understanding Trading, Customer Accounts, and Prohibited Activities||31%||23|
|(4) Overview of Regulatory Framework||9%||7|
The 75 questions are actually 85, since there are 10 randomly distributed pre-test questions that do not count towards the score on the exam. Candidates have an hour and forty-five minutes to complete the entire exam. A full outline of the SIE content is currently available on FINRA's website.
How does the SIE affect me?
If you already passed one of the FINRA exams and are currently registered as a representative, you are considered to have passed the SIE already. If you passed one of the exams and are not currently registered, you may need to take the SIE depending on how many years elapse between now and your next registration. And, of course, if you passed the exam but your registration has lapsed, you will need to take the SIE and the new top-off for that qualification before being reregistered. This is pretty much the same as it has always been, except you would be taking two exams instead of one. In fact, the exams are designed to take the same total time as the previous versions. For example, the SIE and Series 7 top-off exam take the same amount of time as the previous Series 7 exam.
For member firms, the cost of the top-off exams is less than the previous exams because the content was shifted to the SIE. So, if an individual has passed the SIE prior to joining a firm, it is a good indication that this person already has the basic aptitude and wherewithal to pass a top-off exam. And, of course, the cost of getting that individual registered is reduced because they paid out of pocket for the SIE. All of which will likely help make a candidate more attractive to a firm.
If I had a Series 7 and it lapsed, do I have to take the new SIE or am I still covered?
If your license lapsed—assuming two years have passed since you were last registered—you have to retake the Series 7. You need to retake the SIE only if four years have elapsed since you last passed it or were last registered.
Is there an order for taking the SIE and the top-off? Should I take them together or separately?
The SIE is designed to come first, but the SIE and its associated top-off exams can also be completed over the same time period. In fact, you can take SIE and Series 7 top-off on the same day—just like the previous Series 7.
Can I become a registered representative without a corporate sponsor by passing the SIE Exam?
You need to take a top-off exam in order to become a registered representative, which you cannot take without a corporate sponsor.
Will the new SIE be harder or easier than the old Series 7?
The overall content covered over the two tests—the SIE and the Series 7 top-off exam—will be nearly identical to the previous Series 7.
How long is the SIE valid and does it have to be renewed?
The SIE is valid for four years. It needs to be renewed if four years have passed since you were last registered.
What is the wait time if I fail?
The wait time is 30 days for the first and second attempts, then six months if you fail the third attempt.
The Bottom Line
If you were already sponsored to take one of the qualification exams, go for it. These changes won't impact you at all. If you expect to be sponsored in the future, the overall content you need to master won’t change even though you have to do it in two chunks. If, however, you are not currently sponsored or in the industry, the SIE will open the door for you to start down the path of a financial career without having to associate with a member firm first. This change gives you a choice you didn't have before.