Is the CFA Worth It?

Updated: Jan 22, 2020

The Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA®) designation is recognized pretty much as the top designation for investment management professionals.

There’s no doubt about the fact that this certification is a valuable one that can help your career and improve your knowledge base. But by how much? This article explores the time and cost trade-off and helps you calculate if the process of becoming a CFA® is worth the end result of being a CFA®.

Steps to Become a CFA®

It’s not easy to become a CFA® Charterholder. You need to take three really tough exams spaced a year apart, demonstrate related work experience, provide reference letters, and commit about $5K to the whole effort. And, from this English major whose skills lie far from high-level math ability and who would be hard-pressed to become a CFA®, you have to be really smart in math!

Steps from the CFA website:

1. Pass CFA Exams - CFA Program contains three levels of curriculum, each with its own exam. Passing the exam for all three levels is a requirement to obtain the CFA charter.

2. Achieve Qualified Work Experience - Complete work experience requirements before, during, or after participation in CFA Program. Your experience must be directly involved with the investment decision-making process or producing a work product that informs or adds value to that process.

3. Submit Reference Letters - In support of your membership application, you will need to provide 2-3 professional references. References will be asked to comment on your work experience and professional character.

4. Apply to Become a Charterholder - Apply to become a regular member of CFA Institute. Once your application is approved and you have joined CFA Institute, you will have earned the CFA charter.

Why It Could Be Worth It

A portion of high-paying financial services jobs require or prefer a CFA® Charterholder. Having the designation puts you in contention for these jobs that you wouldn’t have without CFA® after your name. As the Kaplan Schweser folks put it “the general consensus of most CFA® Charterholders is that it has paid off in terms of career, knowledge, satisfaction, and end results.” It’s definitely a designation that has high recognition even among non-financial people and especially among financial people. Anecdotally, whenever I personally see CFA® after a person’s name, I think, “Wow!”, and I’m more likely to listen to what they are writing in an article or saying in a podcast or teaching me