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CFA vs. MBA: which one suits you best?

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Business schools are feeling smug; in times of crisis, their student intake is higher than usual. People see a business school degree as a way to protect themselves from staff reductions, or better yet, to ensure quicker promotions. But when it comes to specific choices, should a finance specialist go for a CFA certificate or an MBA programme?

You should choose a CFA if:

— You have a clear idea of the field you are going to work in

Vladimir Tutkevich, General Director of the Russian CFA Association, says that investment banking and asset management specialists usually get a CFA certificate, which is also the preferred choice of finance directors and investment directors working outside the financial sector.

“For me and for our company, a CFA, at least a Level 1 CFA exam, represents a substantial advantage when making hiring decisions,” says Alexander Golovtsov, head of research at UralSib Asset Management.

— You have limited funds

According to Vladimir Tutkevich, the CFA program is geared, among others, to people at the start of their careers, who cannot leave work to do further studies.

— You value the knowledge acquired during the course above all else

“For me, the CFA was a way of bringing together all the aspects of investment management, not to mention the prestige associated with the certificate itself,” says Vladimir Soloviev, Chief Executive Officer of Raiffeisen Capital Asset Management Co. and Head of Investment Management at ZAO Raiffeisenbank.

Conversely, you should choose an MBA if:

— You have not yet decided on your career field

An MBA is the better choice for those who are still undecided as to the specific field within economics and finance that they are going to work in, leaving more room for choice in the future, while a CFA is a highly focused programme for investment professionals, Tutkevich believes.

— You can leave employment for one or two years (or can have your employer pay for your course)

“You will spend US$200,000 to US$500,000 on an MBA if you take into account the foregone income. A CFA seems free by comparison. You can get it simply to have the certificate “just in case”. Of course, the MBA and CFA yield different returns; I’ve never heard of anyone getting a higher salary because they did a CFA,” says a Russian private equity fund employee who asked to remain anonymous.

— You are familiar with business school ratings and can afford the best

“In my opinion the value of an MBA varies significantly depending on the business school where it was obtained,” says Soloviev from Raiffeisen Capital Asset Management.

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