How old is too old to be bothered with the CFA exams?

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Age of CFA exam takers

People taking the CFA exam are pretty young these days

If you're looking for a qualification to embellish your financial services CV, the exams by the CFA Institute are a good place to start, Every year, over a hundred thousand people globally sit for the three part 'CFA Program.'  Many of them then go on to get jobs at leading investment banks. 

However, is it worth starting the CFA Program if you're no longer in the first flush of youth? Maybe not.

If you're aged 30+, you're a CFA outlier 

The CFA Program isn't easy. Every exam requires 300 hours of study, which is tough when you also have a job and a family.

In 2014, the CFA Institute tells us that the average CFA I candidate was aged 26.5, that the average CFA II was aged 28.2 and that the average CFA III candidate was aged 29.7.

If you're embarking upon the CFA Level 1 aged 30+, you are therefore 'old'. If you're embarking on the CFA Level 1 aged 40+, you will feel like a dinosaur when you reach the exam room.

The CFA is becoming an accreditation pursued by students

You cannot achieve the full CFA Charter without adhering to the CFA Institute's work experience requirements. These say that you must have 48 months of relevant work experience (with relevant defined here).

This hasn't stopped students with no relevant work experience from sitting the CFA exams as part of their university courses. In fact, the CFA has actively promoted its exams as part of university degree courses. There are over 150 universities worldwide with integrated CFA examinations as part of their academic offerings.

The upshot of this is that the CFA exams are becoming a student-thing. And as a result, the age of candidates taking the CFA exams is falling - especially CFA Level I. In 2009, the average CFA Level I candidate was aged 27.4. They're now a whole year younger. Equally, as the chart below, taken from the CFA's own website, shows, students now account for nearly a quarter of all CFA exam candidates.

CFA for students

Source: CFA Institute

"If you have a wife and family, there are better uses for your time..."

One 40-something ex-analyst who took the CFA Level I exam told us he hasn't bothered with Level II due to the enormous time commitment required. "Once you have a wife and family, a house and kids, there are just better ways of spending your time," he said.

"The CFA exams are becoming a rite of passage for people in their 20s who have nothing going on," he added.

This particular ex-analyst took the CFA exams while he was between jobs as something to add to his CV. Now he's in work again, but he said the CFA pass didn't do much to make him more employable: "No one's ever been overtly impressed by my first time pass."

This may come as no great surprise to others who've passed CFA exams too. The Institute's June 2014 Candidate Survey found that while 47% of candidates were taking the CFA to advance their career and improve their chances of finding a job, the majority were taking the exams for more nebulous reasons like 'attaining a higher level of knowledge,' 'challenging themselves', or joining a community of globally respected finance professionals.

"I came out knowing a lot of random stuff about accounting and investing which I wouldn't have known otherwise," complained the ex-banker. "But it's not easy and the time requirement is frankly insane."


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