Becoming a CFA® Charterholder
What Does It Take?

Is becoming a CFA® charterholder something to which you aspire? Are you ready to devote hours of study and dedication to preparing for the exams? Is tackling any roadblocks in the financial system something that you find exciting? If your answers are a resounding "yes" to all these questions, march straight up towards what is considered the gold standard of financial certification: The Chartered Financial Analyst® (CFA ).

Qualifications to start the CFA program

For starters, let's debunk the myth that CFA requires a solid financial background. Anyone interested in the prospects of working in the financial and portfolio management sectors can sit for the CFA exam, be it a bartender, a school teacher, or even a server, provided that they meet the CFA eligibility requirements: a bachelor's degree, 4,000 hours of relevant working experience, and clearing all three levels of the CFA exam, to list a few. Once the prerequisites are out of the way, the candidate then needs to become a member of the CFA® Institute.

Seems doable? Let’s get into the details.

Earning the CFA Charter

The Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) certificate is very significant. The charter equips you with the information needed to make complicated financial evaluations. It also makes it easier to address ethical challenges throughout your career. To become a CFA charterholder, you must first grasp the prerequisites.

Let’s start with a checklist:

  1. Passing the CFA exams
  2. Fulfilling the work requirement
  3. Submitting letters of reference
  4. Applying for membership with the CFA Institute
  5. Abiding by the CFAI’s Code of Ethics

Passing the CFA Exams

Often the first steps in obtaining the CFA charter is registering for and passing all three levels of the CFA exam. While the CFA Level 1 exam is more about subject knowledge and understanding, the CFA Level 2 exam is more about application and analysis. The CFA Level 3 exam on the other hand focuses more on information synthesizing and assessment. Keep in mind that these are difficult examinations, and candidates are advised to spend an average of 300 hours studying for each exam.

Fulfilling the Work Requirement

A candidate may begin accruing hours of eligible work experience before, during, and even after enrolling in the CFA program. The employment experience must be directly related to or contribute value to the investment decision-making. It can be gained via full-time, part-time, or remote employment arrangements before, during, or after participating in the CFA Program. Please note that CFAI has cut down the time necessary to complete the minimum 4,000 hours of professional work experience from 48 months to 36 months.

Submitting Letters of Reference

You must provide two to three letters of reference from someone who can speak to your expertise and integrity. When you apply for membership, you will be required to submit professional references, who will then be asked to remark on your job experience and professional conduct.

You cannot serve as a reference for your own application.

Abiding by the Code of Ethics

The Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct serves as the worldwide ethical standard for investment professionals. As a CFA Program candidate or member of the CFA Institute, you must adhere to the Code and Standards that require you to put your clients' interests and the profession's integrity ahead of your own. It requires your actions to be respectful and professionally competent.

Applying for a Membership with the CFAI

Once you've passed all three levels of the CFA exam, fulfilled your work requirements, and submitted two to three letters of reference, it is time to apply for membership with the CFA Institute. Once approved, you will have officially earned the CFA charter.

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CFA Membership and Fee Structure

Obtaining a CFAI membership is unquestionably one of the most beneficial phases in your CFA journey. It allows you to be a member of the society that helps enhance professional standards in over 150 worldwide financial marketplaces. It also facilitates networking and volunteering, which keeps you up to speed on investment management, any particular CFA program, and charter developments. Finally, you also get the gratification of knowing that you have contributed your time, skills, and expertise.
But how do we go about applying for membership? Here’s how…

Types of CFA Membership

You don't have to be a CFA charterholder or a CFA Program candidate to join the CFA Institute as a member. Membership in the CFA Institute offers professional tools, networking opportunities, ongoing education, and other perks beyond the curriculum and tests. Although candidates from certain countries may be prohibited by law from becoming CFA Institute or society members. In such cases, it is advised to review the OFAC Compliance Policy before applying.

To represent the breadth of investment professionals' expertise, CFAI provides two membership levels:

  1. Regular Membership
  2. Affiliate Membership

Regular Membership

The membership is meant for investment professionals directly involved in or supporting the investment decision-making process. Regular membership is a prerequisite to earning the CFA charter.

  1. Eligibility: A bachelor's degree or equivalent education/work experience and a passing score in all three levels.
  2. Benefits: Voting rights for CFA Institute Board of Governor elections. Access to the most recent research, CPL content, a member directory, and exclusive volunteer opportunities.
  3. Annual fees: $275 for the CFA Institute.

Affiliate Membership

The membership is much more aligned for investment professionals who do not meet the eligibility requirements of regular memberships or do not intend to participate in the CFA Program.

  1. Eligibility: You must meet the eligibility requirements for your selected member society and become a member of that society.
  2. Benefits: Access to the latest research, continued professional learning content, member directory, and exclusive volunteer opportunities.
  3. Annual fees: $275 for the CFA Institute.

The CFA Institute membership costs $275 for the complete membership year, which begins on July 1 of each year. The yearly price for first-time members can vary based on the month they join. For example, if you joined in September, you would only be paying for 10 months in year 1.

Please note that the CFA Institute and society dues are non-refundable and non-transferable.
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On average, it takes more than four years to become a CFA charterholder. However, if you have previously satisfied the academic and/or job criteria for CFA Program enrollment, you may become a CFA charterholder in less than two years, provided you pass each test on your first attempt.
The CFAI review procedure might take up to ten business days to complete. Your application will also be examined by the local society to which you applied, which might take up to a month. When everything is completed, you will get an email confirming that your application evaluation is complete.
Yes! The process of becoming a CFA is strenuous and requires hours of study, dedication, and consistency. Since the course is exhaustive, passing all three exams requires a very high level of preparation. But with a proper study guide and prep, the journey to obtaining a charter can get a lot easier.

Read more about CFA

Want to know whether having a CFA certificate will help your career? Here’s all you need to know about the different career prospects with CFA to get started right away.
Want to compare CFA salaries throughout the globe and across other finance-related roles? Here is a list of different factors that determine your salary and compensation.
Planning to take the CFA exam? Visit this quick guide for more information on everything you need to know before taking the exam.
Getting the CFA charter or a CPA designation is an important decision for anyone in the financial industry. This article will help you decide what to choose.
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