How to Become a CFA®
The Journey to CFA® Charterholder

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

To begin with, it is a common misconception that a strong financial background is necessary to pursue a CFA certification. In reality, while this background might help in passing the exams, anyone who is interested in working in the financial or portfolio management industry can take the CFA exam, regardless of their current profession as long as they fulfill the CFA eligibility requirements. Once these requirements are met, the candidate must also become a member of the CFA Institute (CFAI).

Earning the CFA Charter

Obtaining the CFA certificate is highly valuable as it provides you with the necessary knowledge and skills to perform complex financial analyses. Additionally, it enables you to effectively handle ethical dilemmas throughout your professional journey. However, to become a CFA charterholder, you must first meet certain requirements.

  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 / eligibility

For individuals considering enrollment in the CFA Program, it is important to note that eligible work experience may be obtained before, during, or after the completion of the program through full-time, part-time, or remote employment, as long as it contributes to investment decision-making. Specifically, the CFAI mandates that such experience must comprise a minimum of 4,000 hours and be completed in a minimum of 36 months. In addition, the CFAI as part of its CFA Program evolution 2024 updates announced that beginning in 2024, university students who have two years remaining in their undergraduate studies will be granted extended eligibility to participate in the CFA Program. This extension will allow for earlier preparation for internships and career opportunities in the investment field.

The CFA candidate scale showing cold, warm, and hot.
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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 CFAI, 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 CFAI. Once approved, you will have officially earned the CFA charter.

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 memberships

You don't have to be a CFA charterholder or a CFA Program candidate to join the CFAI as a member. Membership in the CFAI 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 CFAI 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 CFAI 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 CFAI.

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 CFAI.

The CFAI 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.

Note: Please note that the CFAI and society dues are non-refundable and non-transferable.

Understanding the CFA landscape early provides an efficient and effective experience. Find out exactly what you need to do to get started.
A potential CFA candidate is finding out what it takes to get started on the Level 1 exam.

Frequently Asked Questions

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 following curriculum is included on each level of the CFA exam:
  1. Knowledge and Comprehension makeup Level 1
  2. Application and Analysis make up Level 2
  3. Synthesis and Evaluation make up Level 3
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.
A CFA charterholder’s salary can range from $50,000 to $300,000 per year based on several factors:
  1. Educational background
  2. Years of work experience
  3. City of residence
  4. Size and type of company
  5. Career path

Read more about the CFA Exam

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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