What Is the CFA Institute?

The CFA Institute is an international organization that provides investment professionals with education, a code of ethics to follow, and several certification programs. Formerly known as the Association for Investment Management and Research (AIMR), the CFA Institute's primary mandate is to specify and maintain a high standard for the investment industry. Members include those who hold the chartered financial analyst (CFA) designation or are otherwise bound by its rules. 

Key Takeaways

  • A CFA is a chartered financial analyst.
  • The CFA Institute is the organization that creates the curriculum, code of ethics, and exams that underlie the CFA designation.
  • The primary mandate of the CFA Institute is to establish a high set of standards for investment professionals.
  • In addition to the CFA designation, the CFA Institute offers a Certificate in Investment Performance Measurement and, separately, an Investment Foundations Program.

Understanding the CFA Institute

The CFA Institute is guided by a board of governors that is comprised of 20 board members, most of whom are elected by the institute's members for three-year terms. The organization is headquartered in Charlottesville, Va., and has offices in New York, Beijing, Hong Kong, Mumbai, London, and Brussels.

The mission of the CFA Institute is to promote the highest standards of ethics, education, and professional excellence in the global investment industry. It produces industry guidelines, such as the Global Investment Performance Standards (GIPS), and aspires to serve financial professionals by providing education, professional development, and networking opportunities. The CFA Institute aims to be a global leader in investment ethics, industry practice, and capital market integrity and its mission statement is as follows:

"To lead the investment profession globally by promoting the highest standards of ethics, education, and professional excellence for the ultimate benefit of society."

The CFA Institute is perhaps best known for creating and maintaining the CFA Institute Code of Ethics and Standards of Professional Conduct, which is an ethical benchmark for investment professionals around the world, regardless of their specific jobs within the industry. Institute members, CFAs, and CFA candidates are required to adhere to this document throughout their careers.

Beyond monitoring and updating a standard of conduct and behavior for investment professionals, the CFA Institute also works to shape and influence public policy and industry practice to put investor interests first.

Types of Designations Offered by the CFA Institute

The CFA Institute offers several education programs and certifications, with the CFA designation being the most recognized. The CFA program provides a foundation in portfolio management and investment analysis skills and is the professional standard of choice for over 31,000 investment firms worldwide.

The CFA designation requires candidates to pass three successive examinations that cover ethical and professional standards, quantitative methods, economics, financial reporting, corporate finance, equity, fixed income, derivatives, alternative investments, and portfolio management. Aspiring CFAs must also have a minimum amount of industry experience before receiving the designation.

There are more than 150,000 CFAs in 165 countries. 

Another designation offered by the CFA Institute is the Certificate in Investment Performance Measurement (CIPM), which is designed to give candidates practice-based investment performance and risk evaluation skills that are globally relevant. This program covers ethics and reporting standards, manager selection, appraisal, attribution, and measurement.

Lastly, the CFA Institute is also behind the Investment Foundations Program, which covers the essentials of investment roles, finance, and ethics. This self-study program is designed to benefit people who work for investment and financial services companies, such as sales and marketing professionals, human resources (HR), or information technology professionals.