Getting Your CFA — Is It Worth the Effort?

Working to become a chartered financial analyst (CFA) charter holder is an exciting and arduous undertaking that requires extreme commitment to a difficult and lengthy process. While it is not for everyone, the rewards for gaining your CFA charter can be substantial. With a process so lengthy and time-consuming, how can you be sure the road you are traveling is the right one?

Becoming a chartered financial analyst isn’t something that just anyone can accomplish. From the years spent investing long hours invested to the rigors of testing, becoming a CFA charter holder is arguably as challenging as enduring medical school and residency to become a doctor. While it can be difficult to know what something is like until you are in the process yourself, the experiences and insights of others can still be enlightening. Here is a look at what it will take to get your CFA charter, as well as the rewards that come from receiving it.

The Requirements

The requirements for becoming a chartered financial analyst are stringent. You must have at least four years of professional investment experience and you must demonstrate that experience. There is an extensive and comprehensive code of ethics that must be upheld and three levels of exams requiring hundreds of hours of study per exam level; these exams will test you on intricate details of investment management and analysis. The process takes multiple years beyond the four professional years that must initially be invested — and this is after you’ve completed college or graduate school.

How to Improve Your Odds

As you can tell, the workload is substantial; if you want to be a charter holder though, it’s necessary. The average amount of time spent studying for each exam level is around 250 hours. If you’re working full time, that means fitting in 10 to 15 hours of studying per week for around six months for each of the three exams. Besides devoting significant time to studying, someone who wants to be a CFA charter holder should take business and finance courses from a school that gears those courses toward CFA requirements. Many MBA programs now have CFA curriculum built into coursework, and programs that do this give an eventual test-taker a remarkable advantage.

The Hardships Inherent

Becoming a chartered financial analyst is no cakewalk. The time commitment is a lengthy one and it needs to be honored on a daily basis. Also, because becoming a charter holder is based on test scores, there’s no guarantee your time commitment will pay off. Then, there’s the money. The total cost of adding the CFA to your resume can set you back as much as $8,500, and while that isn’t high when it’s compared to other professional degrees, it’s still a reasonable amount.

The Benefits You’ll Reap

clocksOf course, the rewards that await the CFA charter holder are sizeable. Employers take note of CFAs, because they know the exams are challenging. All that work and study will enable you to command a good salary in a remarkably wide variety of finance-related work. While the salaries vary by position — roughly $61,000 for a financial analyst to over $200,000 for a chief financial officer — the most noticeable feature is that employees without a CFA charter make less, even with the same experience and education. Regardless of the area of finance and salary you settle into, your CFA will ensure you’re being rewarded.

So, is it worth it? Are years of study followed by more years of study the way you want to spend your time? If finance and investment is where you hope to spend your professional life, becoming a CFA charter holder will certainly provide you with a knowledge base that is more likely to ensure your success. It will not only equip you with the skills and know-how regarding the increasingly complex financial services industry, it will also serve as your protector. The ethical standards and rigors of the charter exist to ensure safer and fairer markets, which leads to a healthier and more stable economy. Ultimately, of course, whether or not you aim to become a CFA charter holder is up to you. If you’re willing to put in the time and effort, because you believe in what you will gain as a person and worker, you’ll be glad you endured.