CFA as a non-finance person

Hi all

I have about 20 years of work experience but not in the finance area, but in IT, I’m an IT engineer and I have no finance background at all. However, many of my employers have been banks, financial services companies or the stock exchange. I’ll be completing an MBA soon and thought to do a CFA afterwards, because I’m very much interested in all the finance stuff. I don’t plan to work as a financial analyst or something like that but I would like to complement my IT education and the MBA with a CFA.

Now I’ve read that to become a charterholder you need to have some kind of relevant work experience and being involved in the investment decision-making process, which obviously I’m not and won’t be. And there are also 2-3 references required. This is a bit worrying because I don’t want to spend 2-3 years in learning all that and pass all exams and then being refused to become a charterholder because of the work experience. I know that in IT, some certifications have similar requirements as the CFA and require relevant work experience but I saw many people become a member of that institution with work experience that is not really relevant to the certification, so they are very relaxed in terms of what counts as relevant work experience.

I know that I can manage to learn and pass all the exams but do I have the chance to become a charterholder without being involved in any financial decision-making process? What are the references needed for? Do they have to confirm that I work in a capacity that is involved in any financial decision-making process or is it more to confirm that I’m a good person etc.? Is there a charterholder out there with a similar background as mine who can confirm it works?

Thank you

It sounds almost like you’re asking if you can fake your way through the work experience part. The answer is no you can’t. And frankly it would be an ethics violation for anyone here to help you do that in any way, shape or form.

You also seem pretty sure of yourself that you could pass the exam even while you admit you don’t know much about finance. I’m sure you’re bright but anyone who has actually gone through the exam process will have much, much more humility about this because we know there’s a lot we still don’t know.

There are a lot of places in life where you can cut corners, but this isn’t one of them.This might come across as harsh but it’s pretty clear from your post that you need a reality check on this.

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Not really, I was just curious how strict the work experience part is in terms of interpretation of what constitutes relevant work experience, because I know that many certification bodies have similar requirements but are quite relaxed in this regard.

Yes, I’m pretty sure of myself as I have already passed some of the hardest certification exams in my field and I’m very confident that I can pass the CFA exams. I wouldn’t say I don’t know much about finance, finance was part of my MBA and even my IT degree and I have several years of experience on the stock market but of course it is not comparable to someone who has a professional background in finance. I don’t want to belittle the achievement of becoming a CFA charterholder, this is clearly a big thing, but I think, if someone really wants something, one can achieve almost anything. This not only applies to me but almost everyone out there. It requires hard work and commitment but it is certainly possible if one really wants.

That was basically the reason why I posted this here and I thank you for your honest answer.

Greetings, the references aren’t that hard, you can get involved as an affiliate member of your local CFA Society and meet the CFAs there. They can write your references. Folks like to be helpful once they get to know you, in my experience. Their references will be about your character for the most part.

You currently will need to have 4,000 hours of relevant work experience prior to being eligible to receive the charter, please see this link: Work Experience Self-Assessment and pay special attention to work types 8 and 10, for example.

But in any case you can pass all three levels prior to finalizing this work experience, and you can market yourself to potential financial industry employers or clients as having passed all 3 levels of the CFA exams and that you are eligible to apply for your charter upon completion of the relevant work experience requirements.

If you are going into the financial sector post-MBA, you might actually complete your work requirements prior to completing the three levels of examinations. But you definitely need to complete the work experience requirements as set forth by the CFA Institute, one way or another.

Cheers and good luck! You got this :+1:

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Tell me you are from India. Only an Indian can beam such confidence.

It all started with the concept of the CFA being a mere “certificate”. No sir it ain’t your MS OR CISCO certificate. It is a “Charter” that is earned.

Unless you shed your attitude ( I am sorry to be rude but having 20 years of work experience you almost sound like a 15 year old kid), it seems to me a difficult proposition for you. I am not known in this forum to be among the nicest guys but barely anybody accuses me of sugarcoating things. I suggest pick up some books and give yourself ample of time. Re think.

Why bother? Seriously. What’s the point? Especially if you don’t want to do any finance type work. If you really have your mind set on doing it, email the CFAI and ask the relevant work experience question. They’ll give you your answer.

Alpha, I don’t know what you’re smoking, but I’d be dumbfounded if it were sold in cigarette machines.

Warren Miller, CPA, CFA

Sorry to disappoint you but I’m from Switzerland (not Sweden, it’s Switzerland, really). Not sure how this is relevant though.

I know, MS and Cisco certs can be obtained with a few days of studying, it’s clear this is not comparable.

Investing is a hobby of mine and everything I do, I do right. The CFA is a good way to gain more knowledge and proof to myself I can do it. It’s like a challenge and I like challenges.

Yes that’s a good idea. Actually I was considering CIIA as an alternative and emailed and sent them my CV because they also have a similar work experience requirement and they confirmed that if I’ll pass all the exams, I’ll get the CIIA. So, maybe CFAI will do the same, I’ll ask. If not, I could still think about working 2 years or so in a relevant field even though it’s not a goal, or I create my own company where I get the relevant experience. There are options.

Not sure how to respond to such comments, but could it be that you slightly overestimate your own ability if you think that only you and barely anyone else is able to obtain a CPA/CFA? No doubt it’s a difficult task and great achievement to do even both CPA and CFA, however there are lots of difficult challenges out there but there are also lots of clever people who are able to achieve great things. I would never belittle someone who has goals and dreams in life and are willing to work hard to achieve them. He who laughs last, laughs best.

imo dont do it. it’s a high failure rate. something like 20% who make the attempt actually get it. imo u have an mba which should be good enough. if you actually get hired for investment stuff then it makes sense to do the cfa program. but even then id recommend that you dont, mostly because it’s going to take you on average about 5 years and 1500 hours. there are prolly easier ways to get more value add

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ONLY given the perspective I agree with Nerdy.
To OP You could learn Finance and need not have to go thru what many did. As harsh as it may sound at times the efforts and even the results are not worth it.

Under no circumstances… you should feel this forum is discouraging you. If anything AF is the best cheerleader you could ever get. BUT, realistically weigh in your options

Do you have some recommendations then what would be a better deal for a person like me, that provides more value and is less time consuming?

network. im having a good time networking with a lot of people rn. with my mba classmates as well as fintokkers. its given me insight in many fields and really made me think on what i should focus on. also most ppl are trying to get into a tech role from finance not the other way around. so perhaps just put your focus in that direction.

Do whatever makes you happy Alpha. The exams are difficult but it isn’t Mt. Everest or anything. If you feel it will add to your brand then go for it. But first I would check out your local CFA Society where you are living, see how active it is, and think about how you feel you can benefit from this network. Do your due diligence there - and note that you can join the CFA Society without the charter too. Don’t take anonymous advice about your career too seriously, use your own judgment. For some folks these exams are very difficult. For some they are less so. For all of us they are indeed time consuming to study for. The pass rate for each level is typically around 40-50% (perhaps now lower for L1), so the majority of folks will fail. But having said that, if you are the type of person who never worries if they will be in the top 40% of their classmates in test performance, and you put in the time and effort required for each level and don’t get cocky, honestly you should have a great chance at clearing all the levels. Just understand it is a large time commitment, it’s an “ultra-marathon” and not a half-marathon or even a regular marathon. Your Level 1 exam experience should not be too different from your MBA study courses on the covered topics, it’s just compiled together into a closed book exam setting. Levels 2 and 3 start diverging away from the typical materials covered in an MBA setting, in my experience at least.

Only you know the best answer to your life questions. I just took Level 3 in my 40s, I don’t need the designation honestly, I just did it for myself and to help my personal business ventures because I sit across the table from CFAs often and it helps me open compliance lines for my carbon trading business.

It’s a cool lifetime designation that comes with a lot of respect. It is not necessary to get the CFA to become successful inside or outside finance. Just like getting a judo black belt is not necessary to defend yourself if you are concerned about that. But if you’re a lifelong learner and enjoy a challenge, it’s well worth it. Many folks aren’t lifelong learners in this world, including many folks on this Analyst Forum. So everyone comes at the topic projecting their own situation into your question a little bit. Including me of course. I definitely fall into the lifelong learning camp. Cheers have a great day :+1:


I respectfully disagree. MBAs are a penny a dozen. Worse, there are huge differences in quality among MBA programs. The CFA designation, on the other hand, has a rigorous testing regimen and only one source. If I were you, I’d go after the it. After several decades of professional experience, I got my charter at age 62. I’ve never regretted it. Good luck!

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Respect !

yep, mad respect on completing at that age. thats the good thing about the charter… its standardized and has a reputation for difficulty in the investment industry. if you can complete it, then it’s more worth it. the issue is there is an 80% failure rate for the entire program.

here is see a job profile (a bubble) in quadrant buyside/outsiders for data scientist. maybe something for an IT engineer with CFA - obviously if the IT guy has data science skills. What do others have to say ?

I would wager that “there is an 80% failure rate for the entire program” because thousands of people are taking the tests for Levels I, II, and III without having prepared adequaterly for them. I recommend putting in at least 150 hours of study for each level–and 200 hours, if you can. Making that big investment lowers the likelihood that you’ll fail the tests. If you know how to study, you know that study is hard work.

The tests are fair. The fact that the pass rates are relatively low doesn’t reflect badly on the CFA Institute. It reflects badly on test-takers who failed to prepare adequately.

After more than three decades of professional experience–including working as an internal auditor for a Fortune 100 company, then as a Controller of a wholesaler and retailer of art- and engineering-supplies, and finally as the CFO for a satellite-communications company–I got my charter at the age of 62. I’ve never regretted the hundreds of hours of study that I invested. I’m 78 now and still working (for myself) full-time - I provide valuation-related services to owners and executives of non-public companies.

Continuing to work has many pluses. For one thing, it keeps me looking forward. For another, I’m always learning something new.

I’m also in the process of writing my third book; working title: How to Increase the Value of the Business You Own; I intend to self-publish it on Amazon in June or July. I’ve written two other books: Value Maps ( Value Maps: 9780470437568: Miller, Warren D.: Books) and Valuing Wholesalers (BVR's Guide to Valuing Wholesalers: Miller, Warren D.: 9781935081722: Books).

More than twenty years ago, Harvard Business Review published two case studies I wrote: Siblings and Succession in the Family Business and The Ghost in the Family Business.

My model for aging is my late Grandmother on my Dad’s side. Grandmother Miller (Cal Berkeley - Class of 1912) worked until she was 99 and lived to be 106. She was a funny, delightul, and remarkable woman. I miss her every day.

Ha! I love the work ethic.
I tend to have a morose jaded view overall.
I’m working on that for personal growth.
Your mindset is pretty awesome.
It’s something I want to change in myself.
I’m a pretty lazy guy that hates to work.
And right now I am absolutely drowining in it. ha!
I’m reading and analyzing so many HBR cases for mba its ridiculous.
I’ll check your case study out when I have time.
I have a to do a 10 pager single space due tomorrow. (Currently at 4.5)
So busy, busy, busy.
But again, let me just say, I hold you in such high regard.
Thank you for your genuine authenticity.

Thank you for your extraordinarily kind and generous words. I really appreciate them. Best regards - Warren Miller, CPA, CFA, Lexington, Virginia USA.