Licensed International Financial Analyst (LIFA)

What Is a Licensed International Financial Analyst (LIFA)?

The Licensed International Financial Analyst (LIFA) is a global professional credential for investment professionals offered by The International Research Association. The LIFA designation helps candidates attain higher levels of professionalism and ethics in the profession of investment management and analysis. Exams require in-depth knowledge of investment principles, along with an understanding of global capital markets. The program involves passing three exams before a candidate can receive their designation.

Key Takeaways

  • The Licensed International Financial Analyst exam is a comprehensive credential earned by financial professionals worldwide.
  • The LIFA program is administered and offered by the International Research Association.
  • Unlike other globally recognized financial credentialing programs, the LIFA involves no enrollment fee and, you pay only if you pass the program and earn the LIFA charter.
  • The LIFA was established to challenge the dominance of the CFA charter, billing itself as a more intensive, more difficult to pass, and lower-cost option.

Understanding the Licensed International Financial Analyst (LIFA) Designation

The International Research Association is an organization that is committed to providing investment professionals with a way to work and compete in the financial marketplace. The IRA does this by offering the Licensed International Financial Analyst designation. The IRA began developing the program in 1999 and is "recognized by the highest professional and ethical standards."

Like the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA), the LIFA designation requires candidates to pass three proctored examinations. Subject areas covered by the tests include asset valuation, corporate finance, derivatives, economics, financial statement analysis, ethics, portfolio management, international markets, and quantitative analysis.

Billed as the toughest exam in finance, the LIFA program was created to be a direct competitor to the CFA charter. There is no cost to register for the program or to take the three exams. In fact, candidates only pay if they pass.

The IRA attempts to keep the pass rate at an acceptable (or lower) level, believing that the validity of the designation is based on pass rates, and thus the quality of the designees: lower pass rates equal a more valuable designation. The pass rates on the LIFA are also lower than the notoriously difficult set of CFA examinations, with LIFA claiming average historical pass rates on:

  • Level I: 27%
  • Level II: 32%
  • Level III: 48%

The cost per LIFA exam is $750.

Special Considerations

Unlike other programs like the CFA, which allows for those who fail to retake a test an unlimited number of times, the LIFA has a strict limit of only four attempts per exam level. Once the LIFA designation has been earned, members must pay annual dues of $275 to maintain their membership and credentials. That is the same cost for an annual membership with the CFA Institute.

Licensed International Financial Analyst (LIFA) Exam Details

The completion of all three exams in this program allows a professional to achieve the recognition that they have attained the highest levels of professionalism and ethical standards in the investment industry. The main focus of the LIFA exam is to measure professional excellence in a broad curriculum of investment-related subjects. The main topic areas include:

  • Accounting
  • Banking
  • Broker-Dealers and Investment Banking
  • Consulting
  • Financial Publishing
  • Foundation/Endowment
  • Government/Regulatory Agency
  • Insurance
  • Investment Company/Mutual Fund
  • Investment Management Counseling
  • Law
  • Plan Sponsors
  • Real Estate

For an in-depth breakdown of the above topics described, refer to the PDF curriculum guide provided by the International Research Association. More details of the exam(s) include:

  • Levels: Three
  • Time Limit:  Two hours
  • Number of Questions:  200
  • Format: Multiple Choice
  • Prerequisites:  A U.S. Bachelor's Degree or equivalent must be earned by Dec. 31 of the year the first exam is attempted.
  • Exam Date(s):  365 days offered throughout the year
  • Exam Location:  Online
  • Official Exam Website:

The LIFA program doesn't charge any rescheduling fees, which means there's no charge if you need to change the date of your exam.

Licensed International Financial Analyst (LIFA) vs. Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)

As noted above, the LIFA is a financial designation that aims at helping financial professionals excel in their chosen fields in the same way the Chartered Financial Analyst designation does. But there are some key differences between the two. The table below highlights some of the key distinctions between these two professional credentials.

Differences between LIFA and CFA
Fees  - $0 (registration)

- $750 (exam fee payable only upon passing)
- $350 (one-time fee for Level !)

- $900 (early bird Levels I and III)

- $1,200 (standard for Levels I and III) 
Exam Dates 365 days a year Select dates
Waiting Period 60 days Six-month minimum
Sources: International Research Association - Licensed International Financial Analyst and CFA Institute

The November 2022 pass rates for the CFA exams, the most recently-available data, are 36% for Level I, 44% for Level II, and 48% for Level III. They are higher than those for each LIFA exam.

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  1. International Research Association - Licensed International Financial Analyst. "LIFA Exam Program Level I Curriculum & Guide."

  2. International Research Association - Licensed International Financial Analyst. "The LIFA Exam Program."

  3. CFA Institute. "Become a Member."

  4. CFA Institute. "CFA Exam Results and Pass Rates."