The financial services industry is an alphabet soup of certifications and designations. One of the most highly recognized, highly respected, and most grueling to achieve, is the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA).
A CFA is not necessarily a more successful investor or stocks guru, Investopedia points out, but it "does distinguish the charterholder from other practitioner in the eyes of professionals and investors. The successful CFA charterholder has proved his or her ability to withstand rigorous testing, shown a cpacity for learning and made a serious commitment to conduct his or her professional life according to high ethical standards."
The CFA is given by CFA Institute, a global nonprofit organization with more than 100,000 members and dedicated "to developing and promoting the highest educational, ethical and professional standards in the investment industry," according to its website.
Among the CFA's "guiding principles" is the overriding interests of the investing client, acting with integrity and maintaining independence and objectivity, providing investors with "complete, accurate, timely and transparent information from securities issuers, and striving "to maintain and improve their professional knowledge and competence."
To earn a CFA charter, candidates must have a bachelor's degree, have four years of qualified investment work experience, become a member of the CFA Institute, pledge to adhere to the Institute's Code of Ethics and Standards of Professional Conduct, and apply for membership to a local CFA member society.
They must also pass three levels of exams. Each is administered in two three-hour morning and afternoon sessions. Among the subjects covered are economics, ethics, equities, fixed income, options and accounting. The exams are multiple choice, essay and item set, or "mini-case" questions.
How challenging are these exams? The Institute estimates that candidates should spend at least 250 hours preparing for each level. Level 1 is given twice a year, Levels 2 and 3 only once. Candidates may register for only one exam at a time, and must wait for their results before they can proceed to register for the next level.
Since the first exam was given in 1963, the overall pass rate is 44 percent and the 10-year average pass rate sits at 39 percent as of 2010, Investopedia states. Moreover, fewer than 20 percent of the candidates pass all three tests in the first three attempts.
The top 10 employers of CFA Institute members, according to the website are: Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Citigroup, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, HSBC, JP Morgan Chase, Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, RBC, UBS, and Wells Fargo.
Donald Liebenson writes news and features for Millionaire Corner. He has been published in the Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Los Angeles Times, Fiscal Times, Entertainment Weekly, Huffington Post, and other outlets. He has also served as a marketing writer for Chicago-based Questar Entertainment and distributor Baker & Taylor.
A graduate of the University of Southern California, he is married with a college-age son. He also writes extensively about entertainment.