FAQs for the CFA Examination

CFA stands for Chartered Financial Analyst.

Passing just CFA Level 1 opens doors for you. But completing all three exams and earning the CFA charter is even more rewarding. Most asset managers require the CFA charter to run money. Among the typical jobs for CFA charterholders are portfolio management, research, consulting, risk analysis and risk management, and investment strategy.

It’s a significant challenge.  In fact, the CFA Institute itself says it usually takes at least 5 years to pass all 3 levels.  Successful candidates report spending about 300 hours studying for each level, ranging from 303 hours for the CFA Level I exam to 328 for the CFA Level II exam and to 344 for the CFA Level III exam.

Yes. It’s a global designation.

The CFA charter is perhaps the most recognized professional qualification in finance, worldwide.

Career mobility is a huge plus of completing all three levels and getting your charter. But even if you only complete Level 1, everyone knows what that means. It means you know the language of finance. This is a huge advantage for people in IT, operations, and support roles.

For example, if you are planning on moving to Europe, Asia, or Latin America, earning the CFA charter is recognized and lauded by European, Asian, and Latin American employers.

There’s a one-time enrollment fee of $450.  If you register early for each level, that will cost $2,100 ($700 x 3).  If you register during the standard registration window for each level, that will cost $3,000 ($1,000 x 3).  That means the cost range is $2,550 to $3,450.  So register early each time!  Of course, this assumes you pass all three levels on the first try.

It really pays to get your current employer to sponsor you, if you can.  It’s a massive benefit to your employer when you upskill like this.  Ask the question.  The worst that can happen is they say no.

And if you’re thinking about how expensive the CFA is in its totality, compare it to a year’s tuition at a Top 25 US business school:

School 2020 Tuition
Dartmouth (Tuck) $77,520
Columbia $77,376
MIT (Sloan) $77,168
NYU (Stern) $76,780
Northwestern (Kellogg) $74,871
Stanford GSB $74,706
UPenn (Wharton) $74,500

Add in another $20,000 for room and board, just to be conservative.

CFA Institute offers Professional Learning (PL) to its members to help them cultivate their curiosity and advance in their careers. CFA Institute encourages its members to record at least 20 credits annually to stay current with changing practices and evolving industry demands.

No, it doesn’t. Once you pass it, you’ve passed it and you get a digital badge saying so. But if you get the full CFA charter, you’re only allowed to use the letters after your name if you pay the annual fee.

CFA Level 1 is a computer-based, 180 question multiple-choice examination given over two 135-minute sessions. That means you have 1.5 minutes to answer each question. The exam covers ethics & professional standards, quantitative methods, economics, and financial reporting and analysis in the first session. The second session covers corporate finance, equity, fixed income, derivatives, alternative investments, and portfolio management.

“Help?”  Yes.

“Guarantee?”  No.

There’s nothing you can add to your CV that will “guarantee” you a job with any employer.  But passing the CFA exams certainly signals to potential employers who value the knowledge and skills studying for the CFA exams provide you that you’re equipped to meet and perhaps exceed their expectations.

With this in mind, these are the top 10 employers of CFA charterholders:

  1. JP Morgan
  2. RBC
  3. Bank of America
  4. UBS
  5. HSBC
  6. Wells Fargo
  7. BlackRock
  8. Morgan Stanley
  9. Goldman Sachs
  10. Citigroup

So to increase your odds of working for one of these bulge bracket firms, completing all 3 CFA exams is a smart strategy.

According to the CFA Program Candidate Survey Report, June 2019:

  • 97% of CFA candidates agree that the curriculum improved their understanding of important topics.
  • 95% of CFA candidates report that the curriculum accurately reflects current industry practices.
  • 95% of CFA candidates say the curriculum focuses on concepts important to their profession.
  • 84% of CFA candidates feel the exam questions covered the subject matter of importance to investment professionals.