The CFA designation, or Chartered Financial Analyst, is a high-level certification for professionals in the areas of investment and financial analysis. The program consists of self-study, along with three exam levels that measure almost every level of learning. Professionals must also meet criteria for time in the profession, as well as a high level of competency and ethics. The CFA program, offered by the CFA Institute, is global in its reach and has been in existence since 1962. In the financial world, a CFA designation is considered to be among the highest of professional designations. In view of these criteria, the CFA designation is beneficial for both the individual and the organization in several ways, including the curriculum, the CFA standards and recognition, competencies, and in an overall sense at the organizational level. Before we examine each piece, let’s discuss in more detail what the CFA designation means, which professionals hold this designation, and what organizations look for CFA designated charterholders.

Chartered Financial Analysts own their own businesses and work in highly regarded financial organizations around the world. The highest concentration of CFA’s is in world-renowned financial organizations such as Deutsche Bank, ABN Amro, and Credit Suisse. Many charterholders have worked in finance for most of their professional careers, while some have been drawn to finance after a “first” career in another field. Because the designation is a global one, CFA’s around the world have the same level of knowledge and nearly the same level of experience. In fact, some of the top financial organizations may prefer applicants for various positions to have the CFA designation.

In order to begin study for the CFA program, a candidate must meet a minimum level of experience, education, and competency in the field. First, a candidate must have a Bachelor’s degree or U.S. equivalent, or meet a variety of work-related experience requirements. In other words, the candidate without a B.A. must have at least four years qualified experience in the field or a combination of education and experience that equals four years. Internships or part-time assignments do not count toward the experience levels. In addition, each candidate must understand and adhere to very strict rules of Professional Conduct and Candidate Responsibility, and must re-certify to the rules of Professional Conduct on an annual basis. Although it is not stated as a requirement, a CFA candidate must understand enough English to study the program and take the exam in that language, as the program is not available in any other languages.

The question at this point is why is the designation important to individuals, organizations, and consumers? We will discuss each of these aspects during this series, but it’s a good idea to have an overall picture of the benefits. An individual with the CFA designation has a highly competitive edge for employment in the financial industry, not only in his or her own country, but around the world. And in a period of financial uncertainty, it may very well be that an organization will hold on to its CFA’s during periods of contraction because they do not want to re-hire those levels of competency and experience. Because of the broad based, experiential curriculum, which we will also discuss in the future, a CFA charterholder has knowledge that is applicable in every day situations. In addition, because of the network of CFA charterholders, each individual has access to up-to-date information regarding financial markets all over the world.

At the organizational level, a CFA hire has already been held to an extremely high bar in terms of experience, education, ethics, and professional standard. A hiring manager who is looking at two candidates with equal education and experience may have an easier choice if one of the candidates is a CFA because of this level of professional standard. As we will see with the curriculum structure and competency levels of the program, your organization can build its leadership bench with CFA charterholders. For example, the CFA will probably have not only technical competency but also the ethical and leadership competencies that are needed to move your organization forward.

In terms of the consumer, consider where your organization is in regard to customer service. If you are a financial organization whose analysts and investment counselors touch the public, then the CFA designation is a definite plus. Because of the CFA designation’s high regard in the financial world, you can use it as a marketing tool to attract and retain new customers. You can point to the trust that the consumer can have in your CFA’s because of the high standard of ethics and professional conduct required of them. You can show clients that in today’s uncertain financial world, your organization is acting in an ethical, above-the-board manner because of its preference for professionals who hold the CFA designation.

As we have mentioned, some of the world’s top investment banks and financial providers choose to employ professionals with the CFA designation. These CFA’s work with the public and also in internal roles related to investment, analysis, and financial forecasting. So consider this from the organizational point of view. If you are attempting to topgrade your organization and benchmark it in relation to the highest performing financial institutions in the world, then the decision to begin sponsoring for the CFA designation and employing individuals with the designation will be a good one.

In our next article in this series, we will look at the CFA curriculum in order to show its benefits for both the individual and the organization.