Is The Value of a CFA Certification Improving or Declining?

Beecher Tuttle | E-Financial Careers

Hundreds of Wall Streeters and other finance pros likely spent the better half of Tuesday shopping for new business cards. Raised lettering, pale nimbus, eggshell white, but with room for three more letters: CFA.

More than half of applicants (54%) passed the third and final Chartered Financial Analyst exam, according to the CFA Institute, marking the highest pass rate since 2006. More than 25,000 people took the third leg of the exam, up from just 14,600 in 2008.

In terms of the job market, the second figure – the number of people who took the exam – is the one to look at. With banks and other financial firms paring back resources and putting a greater emphasis on risk management, the interest level in the CFA – a designation that says “I know what I’m talking about, just check the business card” – is understandably on the rise. People want differentiators, and being able to pass the thorny ethics portion of the CFA is certainly one of them.

Quantifying what the CFA designation means in real terms is still a bit tricky, though. Recruiters told us earlier this summerthat clients aren’t willing to pony up more money just because a candidate owns a CFA certification. It’s been called a “value-add” and a “supplementary” piece by some in the industry.

But, with more and more people owning them, not having a CFA may soon become more of a detriment than it has been in the past, similar to how not having an MBA can kill your candidacyfor certain roles.

Clients rarely ever ask recruiters to find them a CFA, we’re told, but who says that won’t change if the number of charterholders continues to increase? Or, on the other side of the coin, maybe the prestige associated with a CFA gets watered down a bit as more people join the ranks?

Either way, a higher percentage of applicants passed the first and second levels, so you can expect a fairly large number of people to take the final leg of the journey next year as well.

Currently, the top employers of CFA charterholders include J.P. Morgan, Citigroup, PwC and Ernst & Young, according to Bloomberg.

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