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CFA Exam: All Pain, No Gain?

March 27, 2018

300 hours of prep time (or double… or triple that!), 10 subtopics, 4-digit registration fees, pass rates that rarely rise above 60%... so why exactly do hundreds of thousands of candidates around the world think it’s worth the time, money and hassle to become a chartered financial analyst?

In 2017 alone, just shy of 220,000 candidates signed up for the Level I CFA exam, the first level of three, although only 17,173 made it through to the final round. This speaks volumes about the intellectual challenge and sheer hard work involved in the process. But let’s take a closer look for a moment at why so many people throw their hat in the ring in the first place. What’s in it for them?

These are a few of the questions Keila Viñas and Scott D. Stewart sought to answer in a study on the key factors associated with passing the CFA exams, as well as the impact of this designation on compensation and on-the-job recognition. In total, they interviewed 129 CFA hopefuls and the results of their work are very telling indeed.

First and foremost, the study shows that success at Levels I and II is more contingent on the number of hours invested in preparing for the exams than it is on academic background or current standing within a given accounting firm. So get out those pencils and calculators, all you aspiring CFAs! However, Viñas and Stewart’s findings also revealed that there is no clear correlation between the CFA designation and a higher pay scale.

In other words, don’t do it for the money! That being said, becoming a CFA may help you enhance your skills and make you feel happier and more fulfilled in your role. The comments compiled by the authors of the paper show that candidates tend to be intrinsically motivated to undertake the long hours of study involved in preparing for CFA exams. The conversations they documented highlight several themes such as the need to attain a competitive advantage in a dog-eat-dog market, the desire to learn and the drive to build professional credibility, especially from an employer’s or client’s point of view, all of which were identified by interviewees as reasons for taking the exams – although they didn’t discount an eventual bump in salary either!

CFA training programs, including the ones available through Executive Education HEC Montréal are a compelling professional development avenue for accountants looking for an edge in an increasingly competitive industry.

Find out more about our CFA® training programs


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