Can I do CFA before graduation?
|Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) training|
The abbreviation “CFA” stands for “Chartered Financial Analyst” and is primarily aimed at portfolio managers and employees in equity and fixed income research. In the second instance, however, a few professionals in investment banking, in the corporate finance teams of management consultancies and the finance departments of corporations also have a CFA degree. In the area of Sales & Trading, on the other hand, the CFA is considered unusual as it is not designed for such professional positions. Anyone who has passed all three exams of the CFA curriculum and has four years of qualified professional experience in a full-time position can bear the title “Chartered Financial Analyst”. As of July 2012, 101,495 people from 137 countries held a CFA title.
The provider of the CFA is the CFA Institute in the USA, which has been offering the CFA for several decades. In 2013, the 50th year of new CFA charterholders said goodbye. Due to the very comprehensive training, the demanding examinations and the high quality standard, the CFA has been considered a kind of "gold standard" for years, especially in the asset management industry, to which it is tailored. In recent years, the program has seen increasing popularity from investment banking, although the CFA was not specifically designed for this area.
The very comprehensive curriculum of the CFA in the original version of the CFA Institute comprises more than 10,000 pages and covers almost all areas of a university master’s degree in finance, although not all areas are always dealt with to the same depth and the focus of the training is on practical professional application and not a scientific education. Across the three exams, all subject areas are assigned to higher-level sections within the CFA 10:
Ethical and Professional Standards
Financial Reporting and Analysis
The advanced training for the CFA takes place entirely in self-study and is considered to be one of the toughest and most demanding training courses in the financial sector. Statistically, only about 10 to 12 out of every 100 candidates who begin the CFA graduate. Due to the very high stress caused by intensive self-study in addition to the job as well as the high failure rates in the exams, quite a few participants drop out of the course after the Level 1 or Level 2 exam.
The advanced training for the CFA is divided into three exams, which are called Level I, Level II and Level III and each have different task formats in addition to a different topic focus. The three very comprehensive exams on the way to graduation can theoretically be taken within 1 ½ years, in practice, however, most participants need more than 2 ½ to 4 years to reach the goal, as only about 20% of charterholders manage all exams without fail once. 3 years are to a certain extent considered the standard. Among this group, in turn, there are only a few who go through the program in the minimum time. In addition, younger candidates in particular do not feel so much time pressure, as the CFA degree is only awarded after completing four years of qualified professional experience. So if you write all three exams during your studies, you have to wait up to four years for the title, so that mostly younger candidates are not in such a hurry.
For each level, the CFA Institute provides the candidate with the current curriculum for the respective level for self-study when registering for the exam, which amounts to approx. 3,000 to 3,500 pages per level. Even after subtracting exercises, graphics, table of contents, glossary and appendix, a very large amount of material remains that each candidate has to internalize independently. The subject areas covered by the CFA do not go very deep, but rather convey a very solid basic understanding that is sufficient for the majority of everyday work. However, the curriculum is characterized by an enormous variety of topics that the candidate must master on the day of the examination. The above-mentioned subject areas, which are covered by the curriculum, are divided into numerous sub-subjects that the candidate must master on the day of the examination.
Overall, the CFA Institute specifies the scope of work as around 900 hours of work, each of which is divided into 300 hours of preparation time for the three exams. In practice and depending on previous knowledge, many candidates report that the Level I exam can be done with less preparation time (this is especially true for graduates of business studies) while Level II and Level III tend to require more time.
No documents may be taken with you in any of the exams and the CFA Institute does not provide any formulas. Candidates must therefore memorize the financial math formulas they need for the exam.
In principle, anyone can register for the CFA program who is either currently in at least the last year of their bachelor's degree or who has four years of professional experience in a qualified position in the financial industry. The last way can be problematic, however, because the professional activity alone entitles you to participate in the exams, but at the end of the day the CFA Charter is only awarded to those who also have a university degree. In conclusion, this means: If you do not have a university degree and still participate in the CFA program, you must make up for a full bachelor's degree before you can use the "CFA" title. It must also be mentioned that only full-time employment is qualifying; the CFA Institute does not recognize part-time employment.
Anyone who is in the final year of their bachelor's degree can register for the Level I examination of the exams. However, participation in the Level II examination is only possible after completing a first university degree and can therefore only be taken alongside a job or during a master’s degree.
Registration for the program is always made through the CFA Institute itself, which is the central training provider for all candidates worldwide. If you want to register for the exam for the first time, you have to create a user account at www.cfainstitute.org and first enter your personal data (in particular on your education and profession). The candidate can then register for the Level 1 exam. After paying the exam fees, the CFA Institute will send the exam participant the books for the exam and, if requested, make them available in an e-book version. In order to register for an exam, a passport is also required, the CFA Institute does not accept German ID cards.
The Level I exam takes place every year on the first Saturday in June and the first Saturday in December. The Level II and III exams, on the other hand, only take place annually on the first Saturday in June. So if you fail one of the exams here, you have to wait another year to try again.
All exams are held on the same day worldwide, and the CFA Institute offers candidates the opportunity to take the exam in major and major metropolitan areas around the world. In Germany, the examination takes place in Frankfurt am Main, depending on the concentration of the financial industry. Every exam, regardless of whether it is Level I, II or III, extends over six hours with a break after the first three hours and is a classic paper-based test. Due to the very high number of participants at the CFA, the exam is written in test batteries with several thousand participants, which take place in exhibition halls, convention centers or other large-scale premises. In Frankfurt am Main there is correspondingly written information every year on the exhibition grounds behind the main train station.
Basically, participants get everything they need with the books provided by the CFA Institute. The books, which together make up a little more than 3,000 pages per level, encompass the entire examination curriculum including sample tasks and free practice tests (so-called "mock exams") are available free of charge for examination candidates via the website of the CFA Institute.
However, there are also third-party providers, especially Schweser Kaplan as the largest among them, who offer further examination literature. Third-party offerings include specialist books that present the curriculum in abbreviated form (the infamous 3,000 pages are compressed to around 1,500 pages), additional mock exams, databases with exercises, instructional videos and seminars with face-to-face events. Seminars in particular seem very valuable to some exam participants, as the CFA course itself is 100% self-taught and does not provide for a single day of attendance. Depending on the scope of the services used, the costs for additional exam preparation can quickly exceed the actual costs of the CFA program. It should be noted, however, that many candidates will pass the exams without these extras.
Schweser Kaplan is expressly mentioned here as the only provider. Even if we have no intention of promoting Schweser, at least Schweser's preparatory books are recommended to every candidate, as the exercises are very good and the books concentrate the material on the essentials. For this reason, Schweser's materials are highly recommended by most CFA candidates and graduates.
Used Schweser books can often be purchased on Ebay, from private customers or, for example, from the CFA Forum on XING. However, this approach should be used with caution and books that are more than a year old should not be bought (e.g. 2011 books should no longer be used for the 2013 exam), as the CFA Institute often changes the curriculum and adapts it to new developments . For example, from 2012 to 2013 six complete chapters were removed for the Level II exam, new chapters were added and the old evaluation scheme for real estate investments was discarded and a new scheme was introduced for it. Anyone who learns with old documents should definitely research on the Internet before the exam to see whether there have been significant changes in the curriculum, otherwise the risk of making unnecessary mistakes in the exam is very high.
There is no official, binding statement from the CFA Institute regarding the required minimum number of points. While in earlier years the “minimum pass score” was defined as 70% of the performance of the top 1% of the test participants, nowadays the minimum pass score for every CFA exam is determined using a so-called “modified Angoff algorithm”. In the CFA community, the rule of thumb is that any candidate who answers 70% of the questions correctly will usually have passed the exam. In addition, it is assumed that the area around 64% is probably the absolute lowest threshold with which a candidate can still pass the exam. However, this information is unofficial and goes back to a member of the CFA community who calculated the Modified Angoff algorithm in a Monte Carlo simulation.
Where and in which section the necessary points are achieved does not matter, as long as the total number of points is correct. The only exception to this is the “Ethical and Professional Standards” section. Although there is no official statement by the CFA Institute here either, another rule of thumb is that this is the only area in which a candidate must not fail under any circumstances, which is quite possible due to the difficulty of some questions.
After about 6 to 8 weeks, the test participants will receive their test results by email. Whose e-mail begins with a pleasant "Congratulations" is one step further. However, no detailed test results are shown in the e-mail; the candidate does not have access to them. It is only stated for each section whether the candidate has achieved less than 50%, 50% to 70% or more than 70% of the points in the respective section.
Candidates who failed the exam also receive information about the 10% quantile (the so-called "bands") of all failed candidates they were in. Those who landed in "Band 10" are among the top 10% of the failed candidates and only screwed up the exam by the hair, while a "Band 1" rating suggests a really bad exam result.
The test result as a whole is therefore only given as a “pass” or “fail”. CFA graduates cannot state whether they have completed the training particularly well or particularly poorly.
The three exams of the CFA exam are extremely demanding and have relatively low pass rates. In recent years, on average, only around 40 out of every 100 participants passed their respective exams. The following statistics show the pass rates over the last few years.
2012: 38% / 37%; 2011: 39% / 38%; 2010: 42% / 36%; 2009: 46% / 34%
The passing rates of the exams are noticeable insofar as the rates are to be understood as follows: 58% of all test participants failed the CFA Level II exam in 2012, but it should be noted that these were only candidates who had already passed the level I had passed the exam (which in turn also had considerable failure rates). The same then applies again to the Level III exam. Since the pass rates for Level I and II are on average 40% and for Level III on average around 50%, it can be concluded in simplified terms that of 100 people who register for the program, only about 100 * 40% * 40 % * 50% = 8 people achieve their CFA charter without failing the exam once. The quota of those who later actually receive a CFA charter is slightly higher, as most CFA candidates assume from the start that they will fail an exam at least once and repeating an exam is de facto the norm.
Likewise, it must be pointed out that the pass rates are only partially a statistically meaningful variable for the requirements of the exams. Above, 100 people “who have registered for the exam” were explicitly mentioned. Experience has shown that around 20% to 25% of all test participants do not even appear during the test, but the pass rates are not adjusted for this effect.
The Level I exam takes place every year in June and December. It comprises questions from all of the topics listed above and consists of 240 multiple choice questions that appear in an arbitrary order (but sorted by topic).
The majority of the questions are kept very short, either a short knowledge question is examined or a simple calculation is required. The exam extends over six hours, in the first three hours the first 120 questions are asked in the morning and then another 120 questions in the afternoon. This means that candidates have 90 seconds for each question in the exam situation. The questions are asked in such a way that some simple, qualitative questions can be answered more quickly, leaving more time for others, e.g. computationally intensive questions.
The Level I exam in the CFA curriculum is by far the easiest exam. A bachelor's degree in an economics degree, ideally with a focus on finance or economics, is often a very good basis for successfully writing the exam. Most of the subject areas are relatively general and unspecific (e.g. time value of money tasks, calculation of returns, classic models of economics) and can therefore often be learned quickly and effectively in advance.
The number of questions that apply to each topic is set in advance, the following figure shows the weighting of the topics of the Level I exam and thus the distribution of the questions to the respective topic areas.
The Level II exam takes place annually on the first Saturday in June and differs significantly from the Level I exam in several ways. The Level II exam is significantly more difficult than the Level I exam and many see the Level II exam as the greatest hurdle to achieving the CFA Charter, as the Level III exam tends to be easier for many. Level II places a very large focus on issues relating to the valuation and analysis of various financial instruments across all asset classes and comprises more than 200 financial mathematical formulas.The concepts queried in the exam go far more in-depth and require more extensive calculations than in Level I. The “Ethical and Professional Standards” part of the exam is also much more difficult than in the Level I exam.
Furthermore, the exam format differs from the previous Level I exam. While in level 240 multiple choice questions that had no connection to each other had to be answered, the level II examination only comprises 120 multiple choice questions. These are arranged in 20 so-called “vignettes” or “item sets”. An item set is a mini-case that contains about 1 to 3 pages of text with tables and information and contains six multiple choice questions that must be answered on the basis of the data given in the case. Each vignette is clearly assigned to a topic (e.g. corporate finance or portfolio management).
In contrast to the Level I exam, the number of questions that apply to one topic is not known in advance. For each topic there is a certain range with regard to the number of questions, so that relatively more or fewer questions can appear in the exam on a particular topic. The following figure shows the topics of the Level II examination with their variable weightings and thus the average distribution of the questions to the respective topic areas with the respective lower and upper limits for each topic area.
In the Level III exam, portfolio management is the dominant topic and the exam again differs massively from both the Level I and the Level II exam. The focus of the examination is on the application of the methods, procedures and valuation models learned in the context of managing portfolios from various asset classes for private and institutional investors. Part of the curriculum and thus the examination from level III are exclusively the subject areas of ethical & professional standards, portfolio management and the four asset classes fixed income, derivatives, equity and alternative investments. The superordinate section “Investment Tools” with the areas of corporate finance, financial reporting and quantitative methods is no longer part of Level III. Economics, on the other hand, is a sub-capital in Level III in the very extensive portfolio management section.
The format of the Level III exam is again different than in Level I or II. In the first part of the exam in the morning, the exam consists exclusively of open questions in which the exam participants have to write short essays on various topics. These three hours within the total of 18 hours of exam time across all three levels are the only ones in which the exam format deviates from the multiple choice approach. In the afternoon, the second part of the exam is then written, which consists of 60 multiple choice questions in the format of the Level II exam, i.e. 10 item sets with 6 questions each.
As in the Level II exam, the number of questions that apply to each topic is not known in advance within the multiple choice section. For each topic there is a certain range with regard to the number of questions, so that relatively more or fewer questions can appear in the exam on a particular topic. The following figure shows the topics of the Level III exam with their variable weightings and thus the average distribution of the questions to the respective topic areas with the respective lower and upper limits for each topic area.
Of course, there is no general statement about the importance of the CFA for the further career path, as this always depends on what is to be achieved with the degree. However, as far as a career in asset management is concerned, one can lean out the window as far as the statement that the CFA is a “must have” is allowed. Careers on the buy side are also possible without a CFA, but it is undisputed that the CFA in asset management is “THE” standard for the expected training of employees in research and portfolio management. Quite a few asset managers require their employees, implicitly or explicitly, to take the CFA in the foreseeable future if it has not yet been completed.
CFA charterholders in particular occupy a large number of positions at large asset managers and investment banks, above all names such as J.P. Morgan, Blackrock, Allianz Global Investors, PIMCO and others. Numerous salary studies by Payscale and other providers also show that CFA charterholders earn significantly more than people without a CFA degree.
In investment banking, the CFA does not play a special role in terms of career. Far more important on the Sellside than on the Buyside is that nobody gets a job just because they are a CFA charterholder. Regardless, the CFA can very well be useful for a career in investment banking. A large part of the Level I and Level II curriculum is devoted to accounting and valuation. This knowledge is often very valuable, especially for young professionals or students in the application phase, because those who contribute their CFA knowledge in the job or in the job interview can score points in some areas due to their detailed knowledge of evaluation procedures and financial statement analysis. However, in this role of the CFA is always a trade-off for all those who want to work in investment banking but don't have a job: Each CFA level costs around 300 hours of working time, which is done alone from home. If you only use half of this time to make new contacts instead of studying at the CFA, to prepare specifically for the interviews and to work on your CV and cover letter, you will often have significantly better job opportunities in the end.
Conclusion: For the Buyside, the CFA is still the gold standard and there is no getting around this qualification. For the sellside (investment banking) only conditionally recommendable and by no means necessary.
One of the most frequently asked questions among finance professionals with initial work experience who want to deepen their training is whether a CFA or an MBA is more productive. The question particularly affects all those who want to get involved in research or in the portfolio management of a large asset manager, where the CFA is particularly important.
Basically, the CFA vs. MBA is an apple-with-pear comparison, as the two programs could hardly be more different. However, since most of the people rarely take both programs at the same time, while both the CFA and the MBA can be very productive (especially for buy-side jobs), the comparison is legitimate and even necessary.
There are a number of very good reasons in favor of the CFA and there are also reasons against it. We want to list the most important aspects to aid decision-making, first the advantages, then the disadvantages below:
Benefit # 1: Learn what's important
An MBA is an MBA and therefore not a finance program. The content at the university also always follows a rather academic catalog of topics. Anyone who wants to work in research or become a portfolio manager needs a good knowledge of the financial markets and certainly no lectures in marketing, human resources or operations research.
This is where the CFA scores clearly: The CFA's specialist knowledge covers several important topics very well that you would learn in an MBA, but also addresses topics that you would otherwise not find at the university. Candidates learn highly specific topics (e.g. via the valuation of mortgage-backed securities), which are normally not found in a master’s degree at the university, as these topics are, so to speak, too “practical” and too “specific” for a university education. All content in the CFA, on the other hand, has one thing in common: It is the knowledge that you definitely need on the job if you want to secure your place in the financial industry.
Advantage # 2: The professional life goes on
An MBA is usually a two-year exit from professional life, at best at some European universities for a year or a year and a half. Accordingly, a possibly quite painful loss of income comes to MBA students. There are part-time MBA programs, but these are not comparable with the top international programs that are often intended to lead to a coveted job (a full-time vs. part-time MBA debate can be found separately in the MBA study section on Financial Career).
CFA candidates, on the other hand, stay in the job and not only have hardly any costs to bear compared to MBA students, their income also continues and they can use the time to continue working on their professional career. However, this advantage comes with the following insight: In addition to a 50 or 60 hour week, cramming the CFA curriculum is sometimes a very painful experience.
Advantage # 3: The cost item
When looking at the account, the CFA strikes a clear victory against the MBA. Each level of the CFA costs around $ 1,000, and there are significant discounts for early birds, so the CFA can be taken for around $ 3,000 or less. A top MBA at a top international university, on the other hand, quickly blows a hole beyond $ 100,000 in your wallet.
Advantage # 4: No application
Anyone who has completed a master's or an MBA at an elite university knows one thing for sure: the application process at the top international institutions is extremely nerve-wracking and can also be quite expensive in and of itself. No certificates, letters of motivation or references are required for the CFA. Anyone can register as long as they meet the admission requirements (four years of professional experience or a student in the last year of their bachelor's degree).
Benefit # 5: The buy-side ticket
Those who work on the buy side and want to land with an asset manager, a hedge fund or a private equity company often have the best cards in hand with the CFA. Not always, but in places, some buy-side companies prefer the CFA over the MBA and at some companies such as Allianz Global Investors (subsidiary of Allianz, one of the largest asset managers in the world), the CFA is simply on the compulsory program for their own Employee.
Advantage # 6: Not everyone gets the CFA
As long as it doesn't have to be Harvard, pretty much anyone can do an MBA at some point in life, if they haven't been completely on their head. An MBA course is very broad and the volume of work is extremely demanding. However, since all exams are written per module and are therefore hardly a challenge on their own, while a large part of the grade is earned through assignments, there are hardly any MBA students who have ever really failed their program. To put it maliciously: if you can put a few formulas in your pocket calculator and know how to use Excel, you can get through an MBA program well.
This does not apply to the CFA, the program is quantitatively more demanding than an MBA with good finance courses, but the requirements for the candidates' analytical skills are extremely high and all specialist knowledge must be available on the day of the exam - without a formula collection or cheat sheet. As Business Insider wrote, an MBA won't kill anyone, and the CFA probably won't either, but they'll try.
Advantage # 7: No group work
Not a "universal" advantage that applies to everyone and is very dependent on the observer. But if you generally don't like group work, you will feel much more comfortable in the CFA program as a lone fighter than in the MBA, whose intensive group work is a main feature of the course.
Advantage # 8: There is only one CFA
CFA charterholders never discuss "where" they made their CFA and "how much" it is now worth. The usual brawl at the bar who has completed the better program and has the better name on their résumé is left to the Harvard and Wharton graduates of this world. A CFA is a CFA - there is only one degree from one provider.
So far so good, the advantages are all great, the CFA should already be booked, right? Of course, things are not that simple. An MBA also has a number of clear advantages over a CFA or, conversely, a CFA has a number of disadvantages that must not be ignored:
Disadvantage # 1: Has Anyone Seen My Personal Life?
Student life is part of an MBA. No matter how high the workload is, there is always time for a party and one or two excursions. At the end of the MBA and the associated return to university, for many, it is often a stressful but good time in life. CFA candidates, on the other hand, unanimously report that working on the CFA curriculum, in addition to a demanding job in the financial industry, often drives one into isolation and at least temporarily removes one's own social life efficiently.
Disadvantage # 2: The road to becoming a CFA is very long
An MBA lasts two years, at some European universities the title is even in your pocket after 1 or 1 ½ years. In contrast, to take the CFA in just 1½ or 2½ years, you need a lot of power that most simply will not have. In addition, for the average participant, failing once is priced in from the start. Thus, three to sometimes four years are more realistic and be it that, in case of doubt, one has to wait for the completion of the four years of qualified professional experience. For the impatient, the MBA is the better way.
Disadvantage # 3: Not for entrepreneurs
Anyone who is even thinking about building something of their own in life can say goodbye to the CFA right away, because the program does not teach anything that could be used in the role of a start-up manager. Here, on the other hand, an MBA can be worth its weight in gold.
Disadvantage # 4: network? Which network?
Here, too, a clear statement in favor of the MBA: Every good MBA program lives from the networking of the students among each other as well as from networking with companies and their professionals at various events on campus. CFA candidates are also available through the respective local CFA Societies networking options, but this does not mean that the program is equivalent to the MBA, because at the end of the day CFA candidates are always lone fighters. So for those who build a sustainable and long-lasting network of business contacts is the top priority, should first look in the direction of an MBA before thinking of the CFA.
Disadvantage # 5: Not the best degree for a big job change
The MBA scores very clearly in another aspect: Anyone who is unhappy in their current professional environment and is planning a move to another sector is usually better off with an MBA. With the MBA, anyone can press the “reset” button, go back to the university and, figuratively, start all over again. With the recruiting events at the university and the numerous opportunities for reorientation, it is relatively easy to jump from one branch of industry to another; most recruiters know very well that most MBAs are students with several years of professional experience who are looking to change jobs are. Those who opt for the CFA will not have recruiting opportunities on the university campus. This is not a K.O. Criterion for a career change, but the MBAs have it easier in any case.
Disadvantage # 6: No “Harvard” effect
Who can hardly wait until he finally finds himself in the “BOAH! YOU WERE IN HARVARD? ”- Effect can bask among his friends and acquaintances will not be happy with the CFA. The CFA is without a doubt the best-known non-academic degree in the financial industry and CFA charterholders certainly have the respect of their colleagues (at least if they know how stony the road to the CFA is), but of the charisma of the great top MBA It does not come close to the degrees of the top international universities. In addition, an MBA in itself is also far better known than a CFA. So if you want brand-name polish for your résumé, you will do better with the MBA - provided you have a good university.
Disadvantage # 7: flexibility? Doesn't have to be, right?
Another disadvantage of the CFA is the lack of flexibility. What has to be learned is precisely specified in the curriculum. There are no modular components in the program, everyone does the same thing. An MBA, on the other hand, is many times more flexible. It allows you to take various courses in specialist areas in which you want to develop competencies and at the same time allows you to “play” a little and explore new specialist areas and develop completely new skills, gain new experiences and gain new impressions. The CFA, on the other hand, is a one-way street with a single clearly defined goal in mind from which there are no deviations.
In the world of advanced training, the CFA is a downright sensational price-performance ratio. Judging by the content that the program teaches, the cost is very low. The costs (as of June 2013) are made up as follows:
$ 440 for registration (this is a one-time fee for Level I)
680 to 1,055 US dollars registration for the respective exam (depending on how early you register) br> 60 US dollars specialist books (these costs can be saved if only the e-books are used)
All in all, a CFA candidate from Level I to Level III without additional preparation material from other providers ends up at around 3,000 to 4,000 US dollars for the entire program.
For the CFA program, the CFA Institute also offers a range of scholarships that allow partial or full tuition fee waiver. More information on this topic can be found on the website of the CFA Institute at http://www.cfainstitute.org/programs/cfaprogram/register/Pages/scholarships.aspx?intCamp=cfa_scholarships.
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