Which one is harder to pass CA or CFA?

Not sure, if its too basic. Someone asked me (because the person is planning to do one of these). Which one is harder to complete Charterd Accountant (CA) or CFA?

why does it matter? At the end of the day, is what you want to do. Clearly criticising CA in favour of CFA or stating CFA is way harder to pass and better in any way is a violation and disrespecting CA and the chartered holder of CA. Each charter has its strength. All we need are to know our goals and do our best to obtain our goals.

From my personal experience the CFA exams are much harder than the CA exams. For example, I managed to pass a CA exam with very little study and a 3 day cram session. Anyone who has sat a CFA exam would know this is not possible, CFA requires countless hours of study.

Having said that, if your friend wants to become an accountant they should do the CA. You can’t compare the CA program to the CFA program, they are completely different.

my experience says dat both exams r completely different CFA requires 100% mind game and logical thinking while in CA i think v can get thru with a combination of mind study and byhearting things so again it depends on person to person’s capability of byhearting things or doing it by logic and mind work…so cant say which is tougher exactly.

My cousins are doing / have done CA (rankholders) and I have done CFA, so needless to say, I have been constantly thrown this question time and again, so it’s a pretty legit though to compare CFA with CA.

What I personally feel that CFA is way more difficult than CA, for the reason’s mentioed by jasonmatthew.

I can’t comment on any other countries CA exams, or indeed other Institutes. I am doing the ACA (ICAEW) exams. I just have the final one left (I sat them a few weeks after level 3 this year)… but they’re not what I would describe as basic or much easier. They’re different. I know that in the States - the CPA takes 1.5 years, but assumes an undergraduate degree. In the UK, there’s a lot of different accountancy qualifications with the CA and ACA probably being the most prestigous - both take 3 years and several exams. The first few exams are definitely quite straightforward, but they get harder as they progress and are also in essay format. I find them more time pressured (later exams) than the CFA level 3 morning paper. There tends to be alot more information to process than the CFA questions, which are often guided. Overall, I think they are definitely challenging exams and for most of the advanced exams need a decent amount of study and exam practise. For an idea - my firm paid for me to do several weeks of tuition and revision courses (full time) for my July exam and my own extra revision in the evenings/weekends…pretty similar to the CFA

this is a very loaded question. I would imagine it depends on the institute as well.

Having done both, it’s difficult to compare. CFA is a very specialised finance certification.

The CA is a broad based accounting qualification, the syllabus included Financial Accounting (IFRS), (Corporate) Finance, Auditing, Management (Cost) Accounting and Tax.

Writing the CA exam itself was pretty strenuous, and it is split into 2 sets of exams now. The first exam is done within 3 months of completing your ‘honours’ degree (a post-graduate accounting specialization), the 2nd exam 18 months after that. The first set of exams consists of 2 papers of 5 hours each on consecutive days and the 2nd set consists of 1 paper of 5 hours.

However ask any South African CA and you’ll realize that getting to be able to write your exam is the true challenge. When I started on this path at my university approximately 800 students started in Accounting 101 on the path to becoming a CA (there’s a specific bachelors degree for CAs my university had offered). By the end of my second year there were less than 300 students left. By the time I got to graduate school there were 70 of us left. Of those 70 only 46 completed the post-graduate course. And of the 46 of us who wrote the board exam 42 passed (91% pass rate for my university). So it seems high, but when you consider 42 / 800 only 5% made it to the end.

And it gets worse, some universities have pass rates as low as 18% for the graduate year. This being because all the universities compete to show who has the highest board pass rate, so the average pass rate for the graduate course is way under 50%. Of those who write the board exam the average pass rate is about 60%.

How hard is graduate year? Our final set of exams consisted of 3 papers of 4 hours and one of 5 hours on consecutive days (fortunately we had a weekend between the last one). The level of depth asked in those papers was very extensive.

Compared to board exam, well they only have 10 hours to test you (in part 1) on 4 subjects (accounting, finance, tax, costing) and 5 hours to test auditing in part 2. The difference is its completely integrated. E.g. you likely have to do discuss why an entity should or should not be consolidated, then prepare the fully consolidated financial statements (B/S, I/S, cash flow), and calculate both the deferred tax as well as the tax liability all in the same vignette. Typically corporate finance (WACC , IRR) would be integrated with the costing question (make/buy decision; standard cost etc).

Lastly there are zero multiple choice questions in the CA exam. It is all ‘essay’. There is no prescribed format to produce your financial statements and the vignettes often extend 2 or more pages (first 20 minutes are spent just reading the vignette).

Couldn’t agree more with Nick007.

Being a CA (SA) myself I felt the South African CA exams were the toughest I have come across. I just passed CFA level 3 and I think the only reason why I found the exam so tough is due to the vast amount of materials covered for two 3 hours exams and of course the subtlety, cryptic and esoteric nature of some of the questions.

However, in terms of pure difficulty I would say the South African CA exams are tougher. I think it will be really tough to see a question more difficult than the accounting question we had in our board exams!

CFA certificate is the most difficult professional certificate in the world. You can’t even compare it with the CPA or CA.

There are barely 100,000 CFA charterholders all over the world “since 1969” ! But how many CPA’s or PHD’s (Finance) in the world since 1969? There are millions !

It’s the most difficult certificate “To Obtain”

Well I dont know on what basis you would declare the CFA certificate the most difficult professional examination in the world…but if that makes you feel better have at it but would be interested in knowing which ones you have taken and which ones you would be even be qualified to take. The CFA is a remarkable and rigorous program and certainly stands tall but it seems to me that the medical and law and engineering and actuarial exams (among others) are pretty stout as well. So too understand the relatively narrow market the CFA curriculum is designed to support that has a great effect on the numbers you are citing it is not just a question of difficulty. If asset management is your calling than be proud of this goal but I would pull back a bit from speaking about things you do not know about.

I am a certified public accountant and am currently a regular member in good standing with the CFA Institute who has passed all 3 levels of the exam. Having been through both programs, I can tell you that CFA is more rigorous, certainly. But I believe its improper to compare the level of difficulty simply by looking at how many CFA charterholders there are as compared to how many CPAs there are in the world (or lets just limit it to the US for now).

They test a vastly different body of knowledge and only in limited instances do they overlap in practice in the real world. I work in consulting and let’s face it, it’s all about marketability in this business. I have some engagements that require the use of the CPA and others the knowledge I have gained from working my way through the CFA program. It’s a fool’s errand to compare the level of difficulty between the two, but what I can say is this: the two of them together allow for very strong marketability whether in business development or career mobility.

I just passed CFA Level 2 and Level 3 in last 2 years. I have also passed FRM Level 1 and Level 2. I found FRM Level 1 and 2 examinations harder than CFA Level 2/Level 3 examinations.

The CFA is not close to being one of the most difficult exams in the world.

Try taking the qualification exam as a Ph.D Candidate in Statistics, even the actuarial exams are harder, or the elite Cisco certification where the pass rate is something like 15 or 20%

Hold your horses guys. I should note the following:

* It’s the toughest among its comparables in finance, accounting, risk management, etc. Am not comparing to medicine and engineering! So, Iam talking here about CFA vs CPA, CAIA, CA, CMA, FRM, Phd in Finance, etc.

* Difficulty is not constrained only by how hard the examinationis . I said it’s the most difficult to obtain. The CPA and FRM guys: How many books do you need to go thru to get the certificates? wow CFA is around 20 books with average of 300 pages a book! So stop telling me a 4 books CPA is a comparable!

* And yes, I’d rely on numbers like 100,000 charterholders only obtained the charter within a 4 years average. Isn’t a fact?

* Phd Finance: lets talk about obtainability again: Although I believe that a Phd is more reputable, still obtaining a CFA is more difficult from obtaining a research Phd in finance where you spend most of the years discussing a specific thesis under the supervision of some professors without the extremely high stress and amount info needed to load to mind like in CFA. In addition, you can be a Phd from un-reputable below average universities (and they are hundreds) and still put the letters Dr. & Phd beside your name yet you cant have the CFA letters typed after your name from any other place but the CFAI.


I found the CFA exams hard to pass.

I think a lot of people on Analyst Forums are seriously misled. The CA or CPA certifies you to work as an accountant and provides you with hard skills and capabilities that are actually very useful in banking. The CFA doesn’t certify you to do anything, it gives you a good broad base of knowledge that can be useful if you already work in or have an academic background in commerce.

A lot of people doing the CFA without the correct academic or work background don’t realise how shallow their understanding is and that no level of the CFA will “qualify” them to work in finance. The CFA certainly isn’t a substitute for a university degree no matter how many times the CFAI tells you that the CFA is “the gold standard”.

Would you trust a doctor that was certified to perform surgery on you if all they had done was a three level self study multiple choice exam or would you choose the one that actually completed a medical degree?

First you can’t have a doctor without a medical degree. Secondly, I would much rather go to a Board Certified doctor than one who is not, wouldn’t you? I think it is safe to assume a decent chunk of those with the CFA come from a finance/econ/accounting background, and all of us must have a degree of some sort. Plus you must have work experience that is relevant. Are you actually enrolled in this program or did you read about it on Wikipedia?

Well mark I put up my thoughts because I get a bit let down with the generally poor quality and uninformed posts from non-commerce people that think the CFA is some kind of miracle drug.

I only work in project finance with an honours degree in finance and a degree in statistics, so go easy. Just doing level 2 in my spare time as the market has cooled off a bit this year.

Difficulty is quite subjective, so I don’t think you can really compare one program to another. I’d probably find easier to do a PhD level math class than an undergrad level theater or painting class, so which one is really easier?

That being said, from my experience, the CFA is one of the less “user friendly” program out there (med. school seems worst).

What I mean by not user friendly is that most of us were working/career building while doing the program which is usually not the case for other programs like CA, engineers, PhD, etc. (at least here in Canada), that you are pretty much on your own to study and that all those hours are played on one day, and you have to do it three times (for example, the actuary exams are probably harder, but the curriculum for each exams is smaller and the exams are given more often).

I really don’t think that the curriculum is that hard, it’s really the environment in which you do it that can make it really hard. I have huge respect for those who did it while having children.

Sounds to me we are comparing apples to oranges. An accounting designation VS a finance designation. In terms of difficulty, I would say the CFA is harder based on the pressure we go through during that 1 day of the year (1st Saturday of June). I believe the CA exams are like a curriculum, where you can take it as you go along the course (Correct me if I m wrong).

However, I don’t believe using # of charterholders is an indication of difficulty. CFA is quite the narrow designation that applies to asset management and maybe some analyst work. Therefore, most corporate workers will go for the accounting designations instead (CA/CPA/CMA/CGA). I would say do the CA if you want more corporate work or even a broader spectrum of career paths. Like I said earlier, CFA is for the asset management crew.