CFA Exam is Evolving to Better Reflect Employee, Employer, and Candidate Needs
The CFA Institute is making the most significant changes to its program since first introduced back in 1963. All of the changes are designed to better serve employers, candidates, and charterholders. The designation is considered the gold standard in the investment profession, so modifying the program must have involved much thought and debate. Six additions will be rolled out for those beginning the journey toward a CFA this year. The end result will be expanded eligibility, hands-on learning, a more focused curriculum, additional practice available, the ability to specialize, and recognition at every passed level.
What is a Chartered Financial Analyst?
A Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) is a professional designation awarded to financial analysts who have passed a rigorous set of exams administered by the CFA Institute. The CFA program is a globally recognized, graduate-level curriculum that covers a range of investment topics, including financial analysis, portfolio management, and ethical and professional standards.
To become a CFA charterholder, candidates must pass three levels of exams, each of which are administered once a year. In addition to passing the exams, candidates must also meet work experience or school requirements.
The institute is selective in who can be a candidate. In the past, those with a degree and working in the business, needed to be sponsored by two people; first, a current CFA member, and the second the prospective candidate’s supervisor. For students, the requirement was that they be in their last year of study and be sponsored by a professor in lieu of a supervisor.
The policy that had been in place is that students with just one year remaining in their studies may seek CFA candidacy. The purpose of the new policy, according to Margeret Franklin CFA, President and CEO of the CFA Institute, is to “provide students with the opportunity to Level 1 of the CFA program as a clear signal to employers that they are serious about a career in the investment industry by getting an early start in the program.” This is the first of the revisions in the program and has been in place since November 2022.
Job Ready Skills
This new feature recognizes there is a difference between textbook understanding and work. The upcoming study and test material is designed for charterholders to be able to add value much earlier to their employer by imparting practical skills. A practical skills module will be added beginning with those scheduled for the February 2024 Level 1 exam. Level II candidates taking the test in May 2024 will also be tested on this new material. Level III candidates will see this material in 2025.
The impetus for this addition, according to the CFA Institute’s website, is it, “allows us to meet the expressed needs of student candidates, providing them with the opportunity to prepare for internships and investment careers, while also addressing industry demand for well-trained, ethical professionals.”
Expanded Study Material
Candidates are told they can greatly increase their chances of success taking the exam if they correctly answer 1,000 practice question during study, and score at least 70% on a mock exam. The Institute has added as an extra (not part of the basic study package) three new elements for preparation.
To increase the percentage of successful candidates, the CFA Institute now offers a Level I Practice Pack. It includes 1,000 more practice questions and six additional mock exams to go with the study materials that is standard with registration.
The add-on also provides six additional, exam-quality mock exams. The questions are prepared by the same team that create the exams each year.
The CFA has branded itself with the promise that 300 hours of study per level is what is needed for success. They recognize that most candidates put in much more time, and the success rate for this tough series of exams is low. The Institute has streamlined study to make more efficient its Level I material beginning with those sitting for the Level I exam in 2024.
To be more efficient, the Institute presumes Level I candidates have already mastered many introductory financial concepts as part of their university studies or career role. To avoid duplication and to streamline Level I curriculum content, they have moved some of this content. It is available separately as reference material for registered candidates.
The content that has been moved to “Pre-Read” incudes topics like the time-value of money, basic statistics, microeconomics, and introduction to company accounts.
Choose Your Specialty
Starting in 2025, candidates will be able to choose one of three specialty paths to be tested at Level III. The reason for the addition is the CFA curriculum has always prepared candidates for investment and finance buy-side roles. This choice allows the CFA credential to grow and develop to meet the needs of a broader group of individuals and employers.
The CFA traditional path has been to prepare the candidate for a portfolio management role. This traditional path is still included. The Institute is also adding concentrations in private wealth management, and private markets. There will only be one credential, the Chartered Financial Analyst, but three areas of specialty.
Recognition at Every Level
While the goal of every candidate is to earn a full-fledged CFA designation, each level is a significant achievement. Now, CFA Institute awarded digital badges will recognize success at the first two levels.
The digital badges, to be used on social media when rolled out later in 2023 will be accompanied by marketing and awareness-building with employers, to improve the visibility and value placed on progress through the CFA program. The goal is for candidates to be distinguished in the market, have one-click social sharing, with instant verification to employers and colleagues to boost credibility and solidify a candidates’ accomplishment.
Overall the change, is to signal to the market that completing Levels I and II are substantial achievements, with tangible recognition of a candidate’s commitment to the industry through their learned skills and experience, professionalism and ethical practices.
The world investment world is changing, and the CFA Institute is responding in order to better serve those that benefit from this prestigious designation. Candidates will now have more choices, more study material available, and the ability to take credit for their rigorous studies beginning after passing Level I.
Managing Editor, Channelchek