Chartered financial analyst (CFA) is a professional certification provided to experienced financial investment professionals by the CFA Institute. The CFA program is a graduate level self-study program with three levels. In order to be a CFA, each of these levels need to be passed along with 48 months of relevant professional experience. The exams are annually offered in June, with Level I also being offered in December. On average, one needs 300+ hours to study for each level. You can take level 1 in the final year of university and the remaining two after graduation. You need to pass each level before taking the next. It costs between $2400 and $4600 to take all three levels, depending on when you register.
Taking the CFAs is a relatively new concept in Bangladesh. But in the US, people have been taking it for years. I spoke to Abdullah Al-Rezwan, an IBA graduate (BBA), who completed all 3 levels of CFA and is currently doing his MBA from Cornell University. He gave me answers to a lot of common questions people have about CFA. He said, that contrary to popular belief, most Wall Street bankers don't come from a BBA background. In fact, they come from a diverse pool of academic majors, start working in finance and ultimately takes the CFA exams to strengthen their understanding of finance.
In the Bangladeshi context, since many high school graduates choose BBA for their undergrad degree, are taking the CFA exams still useful?
Abdullah said that the answer is yes. Because firstly, even the best business schools in Bangladesh have a sub-par finance curriculum. Thus, even after 4 years of undergrad education, the students graduate with a shallow understanding of finance. The CFA program covers an extensive syllabus including economics, statistics, financial statement analysis, fixed income, equity, derivatives, alternative assets, valuation, portfolio management, ethics, etc. Secondly, the CFA program has excellent value for money. In Bangladesh, CFA exams are infamous for being expensive. However, if you compare them with a standard MBA program, the CFA program offers a very similar syllabus for about 1/40th of the cost. Of course, MBA students can gain additional valuable insights from reputed professors, yet the CFA program offers a highly standardised world class education.
Will passing the CFA exams help you get a job?
Abdullah said that the answer is probably yes. Especially in North America, recruiters are aware that passing those two levels require grueling effort. Thus having that on your resume signals that you are not just another employee seeking a job, in fact your interest in finance is quite solid. Interview performance is of course a crucial element to determine the recruiter's final decision, but passing those two levels will surely help you get a call for the first round of interview. In Bangladesh, even if you can theoretically get the best finance jobs without CFA, passing L1 and L2 surely makes you stand out.
Will passing all three levels give you a promotion/raise?
Abdullah said the answer is probably no. Many have the ridiculous notion that having a degree leads to promotion. This is false not just for the CFA certification, but for every other degree in the world. You might have passed all 3 levels of CFA and gotten a promotion. But your promotion will solely be based on your job performance, not because of a degree. Having said that, a CFA charter holder has spent above 900 hours in order to pass all levels. This naturally leads to better field knowledge which often leads them to be good at their jobs. So it is because CFA charter holders tend to be better at their jobs that they earn promotions, not because of the charter itself.
Will passing the CFAs help you get into a foreign master's program?
Abdullah said the answer is probably yes. The foreign admissions committee don't know what to make of your CGPA from a Bangladeshi university with an unfamiliar scoring metric. Thus, they deprioritise your undergrad performance and prioritise scores of standardised tests that they're aware of. Hence passing the CFAs will definitely give you an edge in your master's application.
Ultimately, getting a job or excelling at one completely depend on the individual's intelligence, dedication and perseverance. Thus the questions posed don't have straight yes-no answers, said Abdullah, who believes that every personal circumstance is unique and merits a unique approach. However, he insists that anyone even remotely interested in finance should take the CFA exams. This isn't because CFA guarantees a better job or a better pay or a quicker promotion. He recommends the CFA program to those who enjoy finance and are looking forward to a career in finance.