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How to Become a CFA® Charterholder

By: Kaplan Schweser
December 2, 2020
A conceptual graphic with a magnifying glass identifying how to become a CFA Charterholder
If you’re wondering how to become a CFA® charterholder, you’ve probably realized that it’s a great way to set yourself apart in the financial industry. Not only will your job prospects improve with the charter, but you’ll gain global recognition and real-world expertise that will help you better serve your clients for the rest of your career. The path to becoming a CFA charterholder is challenging, but it can open new doors to you in global finance.

Here are the four main steps you’ll need to follow to earn your charter.

Step 1: Pass the CFA® Exam

To earn the CFA charter, you first have to pass the CFA exams. There are three exam levels (I, II, III) with unique topic and learning focuses. The topics include investment tools, asset valuation, and portfolio management. Each exam will test different learning focuses. The Level I exam focuses on knowledge and comprehension, while Level II is more application- and analysis-based. The Level III exam focuses on synthesizing information and making evaluations. Make no mistake: these exams are challenging. According to CFA Institute, candidates spend an average of 300 hours preparing for the exam for each level, and many find it easier with exam prep packages.

It takes many candidates more than one attempt to pass each level. If you do not pass a level, you can take it again the following exam season.

There are a number of different ways to fulfill the education and work experience requirements to enroll in the CFA Program. If you are new to the industry, you need to have a bachelor’s degree (or equivalent) or be in the final year of your bachelor’s degree program. If you have been working in the industry, and you have 4,000 hours of relevant work experience or a combination of professional work and university experience that totals 4,000 hours, you are also eligible to start the CFA Program.

Watch "How to Become a Chartered Financial Analyst" Video:


Step 3: Become a Member of CFA Institute

Before you receive your charter, you have to become a member of CFA Institute. You can become a member while you are in the process of getting the charter or wait until the end. The application process has three phases, and it typically takes a few weeks to get approved. To apply, you need to have passed at least Level I of the CFA exam or the self-administered Standards of Practice Examination, a bachelor’s degree or equivalent education/work experience, 4,000 hours of professional work experience in investment decision-making, and three professional references are also required. You are also strongly encouraged to join a local CFA Society to network with your peers and take advantage of local continuing education opportunities.

Step 4: Abide by the Code of Ethics

The Code of Ethics and Standards of Professional Conduct are the ethical benchmarks for investment professionals around the world. As a CFA Program candidate or CFA Institute member, you are required to abide by the Code and Standards. The Code maintains that you must place the interests of your clients and the integrity of the profession above your own interests, and that you must act with respect and professional competence.

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