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The Level 1 CFA exam - a lot of work, but not much payoff.

Is it worth studying for the CFA exams as a student?

The CFA® exams – once finance’s premier qualification – has been mired in controversy due to low pass rates and a lack of interest from banks in the qualification.

Although the CFA exams still hold some weight in finance, their importance has been steadily declining. However, CFA Institute - which runs the exams - promotes the exam heavily to students. The Institute has an affiliation with over 550 universities worldwide, including both Oxford and Cambridge – although not Harvard or Yale.

Laura Janssens, head of European equities for German bank Berenberg, says that most students don't have the Level I CFA® qualification on their applications, and that the CFA exams will help most if you're looking to move careers. Berenberg recently scrapped their requirement for analysts and associates to pass CFA exams. 

“I’d be happier for my graduates to have a more rounded education. We can teach them the skills to do the job, but we can’t teach them to be an interesting, hard-working, and curious person,” Janssens says.

Janssens adds that she personally couldn’t have afforded to study the CFA exams as a student, and that “to the extent that our industry could do with broadening the backgrounds of our graduates, that’s not going to help.” Achieving the CFA charter costs upwards of $3k in total.

One analyst, speaking anonymously, agrees that the Level I CFA exam (which is the only one available to students) doesn't really generate much interest from employers, although he says it can “become a good topic during interviews.” 

The Level I CFA exam takes at least 300 hours of study according to the CFA Institute, although this number varies according to experience with the industry. The anonymous analyst says anyone with an interest in markets should be able to pass the Level I CFA exam without “feeling exhausted”.

However, he says the Level II CFA exam, which also takes the same amount of time (approximately 6 months of studying part-time), was identified by the analyst as “definitely” helpful. The Level II exam is only available to those that have passed the first and cannot be sat whilst a student.

Charlie Statham, careers manager for MSc students at Bayes business school, which is affiliated with CFA Institute, said that students studying for a masters should focus on their Masters course instead. "If an employer wants you to do the CFA Level 1 exam, they will give you time off and pay for it," he says.

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AUTHORZeno Toulon

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