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First, What Is a CFA Charterholder?

CFA stands for Chartered Financial Analyst. The charter is a professional credential bestowed by the CFA Institute on financial and investment professionals who have completed its program of study, passed all three levels of its examinations, and met other professional requirements. A successful candidate is awarded the “CFA charter” and becomes a “CFA charterholder”.

Learn more about how to become a CFA charterholder.

Typically, it takes between two and five years to complete the CFA Program and pass all three levels of examination. According to the CFA® Institute, there are more than 170,000 CFA charterholders worldwide.

Key Takeaways

  • You must pass all 3 levels of the CFA Program exam to become a CFA charterholder.
  • The CFA charter is a global designation that helps you stand out to top employers everywhere.
  • The CFA designation prepares you for a variety of job positions in the global finance industry.
  • CFA charterholders tend to earn more than their non-certified peers.
  • Earning the CFA certification is cost-effective, and you can even prepare for the CFA exam while working full-time.

Why Become a CFA Charterholder?

Completing the CFA Program exam prepares you with financial knowledge and analytical skills to succeed across many industry sectors. It also ensures you’ll stand out to top employers.

Here are a few reasons to consider earning your CFA:

  1. Better Job Prospects – Financial services companies are taking longer to fill positions, choosing to focus on candidates who mesh with their cultures. In this competitive environment, CFA charterholders have a great advantage with demonstrated expertise in investment management and financial analysis.
  2. Greater Job Stability – CFA charterholders are projected to remain in high demand. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand is expected to grow as technology grants financial analysts more access to data and high-quality learnings.
  3. Professional Credibility – According to Robert Half, the CFA charter is now the “gold standard” of Wall Street qualifications due to its rigor. It’s also a global designation — with charterholders in more than 160 markets worldwide — and carries weight with employers everywhere.
  4. Professional Freedom – With more job prospects, responsibilities, and skills, CFA charterholders have more flexibility to choose how and where they work.

What are the Benefits of Becoming a CFA?

While years of preparation may sound intimidating, the benefits of becoming a CFA charterholder are academic, professional, and financial.

Benefits of becoming a CFA include:

  • Earning a Globally Recognized Professional Designation
  • Access to More Career Paths
  • The Chance to Earn a Higher Salary
  • A Cost-Effective Certification
  • Preparation for Real World Contributions

Ready to earn a higher salary as a CFA charterholder?

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The CFA Designation Has Global Recognition

Once you earn your CFA charter, you have a higher chance of finding a job at any company — no matter where it’s located! Investment firms all around the world respect the effort and diligence required to earn the CFA charter.

CFA Charterholders Have Access to More Career Paths

The CFA designation prepares you for a variety of positions in the global finance industry.

CFA Institute has identified several different types of jobs likely to be held by charterholders:

  • Portfolio management
  • Risk analysis and risk management
  • Investment strategy
  • Relationship management and wealth management
  • Data science
  • Credit analysis
  • Chief investment office
  • Trading
  • Accounting and auditing
  • Financial planning

Once you earn the charter, you become part of a global network of over 170,000 industry professionals. Meeting members of local CFA societies can expand your network, continue your education, and open the door to more professional experiences.

CFA Charterholders May Earn a Higher Salary

A study by the CFA Institute found the average base salaries of CFA Institute members and CFA charterholders in 2019 increased at a greater year-over-year rate than the rate of increase for the general market.

While compensation varies due to the broad spectrum of jobs, the same 2019 study found a typical self-reported total compensation of $177,000.

Compared to applicants who don’t have the CFA designation, CFA charterholders may earn a higher salary. We’ll talk more about salary below.

Earning Your CFA Charter Is Cost-Effective

In general, the price you pay to obtain a CFA charter is pretty low compared to more expensive, time-consuming options like an MBA program. In addition, most people can prepare for their CFA while working full-time.

For candidates who need financial assistance, the CFA Institute offers a number of scholarships. Each one includes a waived enrollment fee and discounted registration.

Earning the Charter Prepares You to Make Real-World Contributions

Becoming a CFA charterholder requires rigorous testing, intensive training, and years of work experience. While this process is known to be challenging, it pays off with real-world skills that demonstrate your knowledge.

What Is the CFA Exam?

To earn the CFA designation, you must pass three exam levels — Level I, Level II, and Level III.

The CFA Institute administers the exams, each of which cover the following topics to varying degrees:

  • Ethical and Professional Standards
  • Quantitative Methods
  • Economics
  • Financial Statement Analysis
  • Corporate Issuers
  • Equity Investments
  • Fixed Income
  • Derivatives
  • Alternative Investments
  • Portfolio Management and Wealth Planning

To enroll in the program and register for the Level I CFA exam, you must first meet one of the following requirements:

  • Bachelor’s Degree: Complete a bachelor’s program or equivalent program.

  • Undergraduate Student: Your exam window must be 11 months or fewer before your graduation month for your bachelor’s degree or equivalent program.

  • Professional Work Experience: You must complete a total of 4,000 hours of work experience and/or higher education that was acquired over a minimum of three sequential years prior to the date of your Level I exam.

CFA candidates cannot move on to the next exam until they pass the exam prior.

With relevant curriculum and input from industry experts, the CFA program exams prepare you with knowledge crafted around today’s market.

According to the CFA Institute, 97% of candidates agree that the curriculum improved their understanding of important topics, while 95% report the curriculum accurately reflects current industry practices.

To prepare for the exams, the CFA Institute recommends at least 300 self-study hours for each level. It’s important to give yourself ample time to study, as well, and become familiar with the exam format.

Start studying today with the best CFA Course and study material on the market.

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Should You Pursue the CFA Charter?

A CFA charter is extremely beneficial for virtually any financial professional’s career, including:

  • Finance Professionals: If you’re currently working in finance, the CFA charter can prove to be a big career booster and help you advance in or attain job roles like research analyst, portfolio manager, financial strategist, investment banker, and others. To complete the process and get your charter, you will need to document 48 months of relevant work experience.
  • Other Professionals: Non-investment professionals such as attorneys or accountants also pursue the CFA charter. It’s a complementary qualification that broadens your professional expertise in preparation for leadership roles. Nearly 7% of CFA charterholders are C-level executives.
  • Students: You don’t have to be a working professional to enter the CFA Program. If you need a career booster, the CFA charter is a great addition to your resume/CV. It’s especially helpful if you’re certain about a career in finance.

Benefits of Using a CFA Review Course

Since 2010, the CFA exam pass rate has stayed under 60% for all three exams. With that in mind, CFA review courses are very helpful for those looking to save time and pass their first time through

Our CFA Program Exam Review contains predictive scoring, world-renowned expert instructors, and our Access Until You Pass guarantee.

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Who Employs CFA Charterholders?

Where might you land with the CFA charter? Based on 2015-2019 statistics, below are the Top 10 employers of CFA charterholders.

The chart below shows the number of CFAs employed by the top 10 employers of CFA charterholders from 2015-2019. You’ll see that most years, these top 10 employers increased the number of CFAs they employ, with Goldman Sachs having the most consistent growth by employing about 13% more CFAs every year.

ubs financial services logo
citibank logo
jp morgan chase logo
HSBC logo
rbc royal bank logo
Goldman Sachs Logo
Morgan Stanley logo
Bank of America logo
BlackRock logo
WellsFargo logo

JP Morgan Chase21402037190317861615
Bank of America ML16331562140414991404
Wells Fargo13841341129312221124
Morgan Stanley1180113210721022942
Goldman Sachs113398810231025930

CFA vs. MBA – Which Aligns With Your Goals?

This is an excellent question, as both options hold great value. We’ve broken them down into a few key variables below:

CFA ProgramMBA Program
Timeframe2-5 years depending on how long it takes to pass all three exams2-4 years depending on the program
Course Requirement
  • 900+ hours of studying
  • 10 topic areas
  • 4,000 hours of qualified work experience
  • Class attendance and participation
  • No practice requirements
Program Cost$2,400-4,590 USD depending on fee deadline$80,000-125,000 depending on program
Educational FocusDeep knowledge of investment analysis, management, and ethicsBroad knowledge of core business concepts with some opportunity to specialize
Networking Opportunities167,000+ CFA Institute membersDepends on the specific MBA program
Other Advantages
  • Universal recognition and prestigious reputation
  • Broad-based foundational background in finance
  • Enhances opportunities for higher paying career paths
  • Low financial cost to attain
  • Universal recognition
  • Opportunities for networking
  • Broad-based and transferable skill-set applicable beyond the finance industry
  • Enhances opportunities for higher paying career paths
  • Improvement of soft-skills such as self-confidence, communication, strategic thinking, and time-management
Source: CFA Institute

CFA vs MBA Salary

DesignationAverage Pay (0-5 Years)Average Pay (5-10 Years)
CFA + MBA$87,200$148,000
MBA in Finance$63,100$119,000

In general, CFA charterholders earn roughly 25% more annually than MBA holders.

To fill a demand for finance and investment skills, many MBA programs — with the assistance of the CFA Institute — are now incorporating large portions of the CFA Program into their curricula.

Are You Ready to Become a CFA Charterholder?

As you can see, the path to becoming a CFA charterholder takes time, dedication, and grit, but pays off tremendously! If you’re ready to take this next step in your career, get started today with 14 days of free access to Wiley’s CFA Program Exam Review.

Give yourself the best chance at passing the CFA exam.