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Chartered Financial Analyst

imageThe Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation is an international professional certification offered by the CFA Institute (formerly AIMR) to financial analysts who complete a series of three examinations. To become a CFA Charterholder candidates must pass each of three six-hour exams, possess a bachelor's degree (or equivalent, as assessed by CFA institute) andhave 48 months of qualified, professional work experience. CFA charterholders are also obligated to adhere to a strict Code of Ethics and Standards governing their professional conduct.

 

The CFA Exam Introduction

 

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The CFA designation

The CFA is a qualification for finance and investment professionals, particularly in the fields of investment management and financial analysis of stocks, bonds and their derivative assets. The program focuses on portfolio management and financial analysis, and provides a generalist knowledge of other areas of finance.

The CFA designation was first awarded in 1963.As of August 2010, CFA Institute has more than 101,000 members around the world, including more than 89,000 CFA charterholders.

History

The predecessor of CFA Institute, the Financial Analysts Federation (FAF), was originally established in 1947 as a service organization for investment professionals in its societies and chapters. In 1990, in hopes of boosting the credential's public profile, CFA Institute (formerly the Association for Investment Management and Research or AIMR) was created from the merger of the FAF and the Institute of Chartered Financial Analysts (ICFA). Many Financial Analysts (FA credential) were "grandfathered" into CFA charterholders without taking any of current levels as a result of the 1990 merger between the ICFA and FAF.

The CFA program began in the United States but has become increasingly international with many people becoming charterholders across Europe, Asia and Australia. By 2003 fewer than half the candidates in the CFA program were based in the US and Canada, with most of the other candidates based in Asia or Europe. India and China have shown some of the highest growth from 2005-2006 with increases of 25% and 53% respectively in the total number of charter holders.

Requirements

1. The basic entrance requirements for the CFA Program include:

  • You must have a bachelor's (or equivalent) degree
    • or be in the final year of your bachelor's degree program at the time of registration*
    • or have four years of professional work experience (does not have to be investment related)
    • or have a combination of professional work and college experience that totals at least four years. Part-time positions do not qualify, and the four-year total must be accrued prior to enrollment.
  • Have a valid international travel passport (required for exam registration and admission to the test center). Read the ID policy.

Candidates generally take one exam per year over three years (assuming a pass on the first attempt). Exams are challenging, with only 42% passing the Level I, 39% passing Level II, and 46% passing Level III exam in June 2010.In 2006, Europe achieved the highest average pass rate for the Level I, II and III of the exam with an overall success rate of 57% of candidates versus 54% for the USA and 49% in Asia and Pacific.

YearLevel 1Level 2Level 3              

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2010 42% 39% 46%
2009 46%/34% 41% 49%
2008 35% 46% 53%
2007 39% 40% 50%
2006 40% 48% 76%
2005 35% 56% 55%
2004 35% 32% 64%
2003 41% 47% 68%
2002 44% 47% 58%

All three levels have a strong emphasis on ethics. The material differences among the exams are:

  • The Level I study program emphasizes tools and inputs, and includes an introduction to asset valuation, financial reporting and analysis, and portfolio management techniques.
  • The Level II study program emphasizes asset valuation, and includes applications of the tools and inputs (including economics, financial reporting and analysis, and quantitative methods) in asset valuation.
  • The Level III study program emphasizes portfolio management, and includes strategies for applying the tools, inputs, and asset valuation models in managing equity, fixed income, and derivative investments for individuals and institutions.

All three exams are administered on paper on a single day; the Level I exam is administered twice a year (usually the first weekend of June and December). The Level II and III exams are administered once a year, usually the first weekend of June. Each exam consists of two three-hour sessions. Level I is multiple choice - all information required to answer the question is contained in the question. Level II is item set - a vignette followed by selected response questions. To answer each question, the candidate must refer to the vignette as there is insufficient information in the question stem. Level III consists of a session of short-answer questions and a session that is item set. On the multiple-choice/item set sections, there is no penalty for wrong answers.

Candidates who have taken the exam receive a score report that is intended to be fairly unspecific: there is no overall score for the test, only a Pass/Fail result. However, candidates who fail are informed of how well they did compared to other candidates who failed; e.g., top 10% of candidates who failed. For each topic area (e.g., ethics, corporate finance, derivative securities, and so on), each test-taker is given a broad range within which his or her performance falls: below 50%, between 50% and 70%, and above 70%. The passing grade for the exams had been defined as 70% of the top percentage of exam papers until 1989; since then, the grading method is not explicitly published and the minimum passing score is set by the Board of Governors after each exam.

 

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