Three Steps to Earning a Chartered Financial Analyst® Designation

The Chartered Financial Analyst® (CFA®) designation is considered by many to be the "gold standard" credential for candidates who want to build, or transition into, a career in the field of investment management.

The CFA Institute confers the prestigious credential upon candidates who complete the rigorous program and meet additional professional requirements.

Professionals who hold a CFA designation have demonstrated a mastery of specialized analytical skills and promise to adhere to ethical standards, whether they work as portfolio managers, investment analysts, asset managers or as other financial professionals. According to the CFA Institute, investment professionals who hold a CFA credential are in a better position to command top compensation.

Earning a CFA charter, is a challenging process that can take three or more years. The CFA Institute estimates candidates should spend at least 250 to 300 hours preparing for each exam level over three years or about 10 to 15 hours per week over a period of about 20 weeks for each exam. Only one in five candidates who start this process ultimately earn their CFA charter, according to the CFA Institute.

Gain a competitive edge

One way to gain a competitive edge in this rigorous process is to enroll in a graduate school program that also prepares candidates for the CFA exams. Creighton University’s Master of Investment Management and Financial Analysis (MIMFA) degree program, for example, incorporates the CFA candidate body of knowledge into its curriculum and class offerings. Creighton’s is one of a select number of graduate programs worldwide that have been selected as a Program Partner by the CFA Institute. Creighton’s program is also unique in that it is offered both in residence and fully online.

At Creighton, candidates get the best of both worlds – they can prepare for the CFA exams while earning a specialized finance degree. The degree program of study focuses entirely on the study of finance and doesn’t require students take classes in related business fields.  The program offers an in-depth understanding of the material behind the CFA exams and of the role of the CFA charterholder in the field of investments. All of the faculty who teach in the MIMFA program have earned their CFA charter so they know the challenges that await CFA candidates.

The CFA Institute requires three steps to becoming a Chartered Financial Analyst.  

Step 1: Pass all three CFA exams in succession

The CFA program consists of three exams encompassing a "candidate body of knowledge" the CFA Institute deems necessary for investment professionals. Level I exams are offered twice each year in December and June, while Level II and III exams take place once each year in June. Candidates must pass each level before moving to the next. 

The CFA curriculum covers a broad range of 10 general topics, including financial reporting and analysis, equity investments, fixed-income investments, derivatives, ethics, quantitative methods, economics, corporate finance, alternative investments, and portfolio management and wealth planning. The exams focus on investment tools, asset valuation and portfolio management – all considered necessary skills and knowledge for making investment decisions.

In addition, all three exams emphasize ethical and professional standards, including acting with integrity and placing the interests of clients and the investment profession above personal interests. Candidates must adhere to the CFA Institute code of ethics and professional conduct. 

Step 2: Acquire 48 months of professional work experience

Before candidates can receive a charter, they must complete 48 months of acceptable work experience in trading, economics, corporate finance and other financial industries. Candidates cannot receive the charter without the required four years of professional experience, even if they have passed all three exams. Candidates may accrue work experience during or even prior to taking CFA exams.

Step 3: Join the CFA Institute

Joining the CFA Institute includes completing a professional conduct statement and affiliating with a local chapter. The CFA Institute has more than 125,000 charter holders worldwide, giving members opportunities to communicate or relate to communicate or relate with peers throughout the globe. Participation in local Society events gives candidate and members a valuable opportunity to network with other, similarly minded and focused investment professionals.

Employers are increasingly looking for depth in a potential employee’s resume.  Job applicants who hold a CFA charter along with a specialized finance degree such as Creighton's MIMFA can gain a competitive edge in today’s fast-evolving, global finance market.  Investment professionals and job applicants who have studied in Creighton’s MIMFA classes and passed one or more of the CFA exams can confidently tell employers “I didn’t just pass the exams; I studied the material in depth and truly learned it.”

CFA® and Chartered Financial Analyst® are trademarks owned by CFA Institute.