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

People taking the CFA exam are pretty young these days

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.”


Comments (15)

  1. If you really want a pass focus and dedication are the only key. I know people who still pass level 1, 2, 3 after 30+ (and yes, they are working in this industry)

  2. I passed the CFA aged 47 last year, having passed level 1 15 years ago. Work and children intervened.
    Why did I bother? It will help with work, as I’m a portfolio manager, marketing to institutional investors, and they care about this sort of thing.
    I would advise anyone who wants to work as a sell-side or buy-side analyst to at least do level I, as in my experience as a head of research, anyone who has got to that level is likely to get at least a first interview, as it shows that they have the necessary technical skills to at least start the job. I would see it as a necessary but not sufficient condition.
    I would strongly advise analysts to get it, and probably salesmen too, but if you are going to do corporate finance then it’s less necessary, as the key skills there are less technical, and more about your ability to network inside and outside your firm.
    It won’t make you a great analyst or portfolio manager, but will at least convince a potential recruiter that you have the maths and the dedication necessary to get there.

  3. I passed my CFA 1 at 35 after 1.5 years of study and I am very happy about it. In my view, if you really like finance you will enjoy the program and what you learn from it.

    Of course it is useless to try to pass any CFA level in 6 months sleeping three hours and working 14 more in M&A weekends included, as many candidates are forced to do. In that case, you will hate the program, learn little, very likely fail the exam and within your heart start complaining about the profession too and maybe thinking “this is not really what I want in life, etc, etc.”

    In my view the point of having a full CFA qualification is that no matter what, you will be always the guy that knows most of the financial stuff in the team, the techie one, and everybody will know it. That is usually good and should be appreciated (at least should be…).

  4. I still think of the CFA as the most important credential a financial analyst can have, for precisely the reasons you mention – that it takes forever to study well enough to pass. If someone just can’t be bothered to take the time, I wonder what it says about his/her commitment. Or am I being unrealistic?

  5. Would you recommend someone to do the CFA at age 26 whose got no previous banking experience? will this help breaking into investment banking?
    anything would help guys..


  6. What about those not working in the industry and aged in between 33-35?

  7. I failed the L1 back in Dec 2012. My score was bad (below band 5), and I know the problem = not prepared! This year I come in again and wishing to get it, however, due to life problems and other goals I wanted to achieve this year, I just can’t make it in to do my studies as planned. I was in the Final Review class (mind you I only signed up for the review) and I am lost. Should I withdraw or else? My question is, if I fail again (not to say even I pass and who knows about L2 and L3), what’s the impact on me as a candidate? Mind you my situation is different, I am not in the industry and I am just below 35 (Godamnit!)

  8. Took the Level I exam in June 2014. Passed. Started studying for it mid-December 2013. Now working on Level II. Started studying August 2014 immediately after finding I passed Level I. Suggestion, start now don’t start late…..very hard to put in the hours necessary, like to kill me last year. Much better this year, just about done reading book 5, one more to go. First reading of three, minimum needed for me to get it. If I can do it, you can do it, just stay focused and don’t quit.

    My age, just turned 62.

    Older Than That Reply
  9. I have decided to appear for level 1. I am turning 37, working as UAT Test manager in bank .Age does not matter . i reviewed the course topics , like it and decided to go fir it it will be fun to prepare for this.

  10. CFA – Another cash grab trying to infuse itself into the system thereby guaranteeing them income

  11. If you are looking to launch a career with the designation your age definitely matters. The older you are the fewer options you’ll have because a hiring manager still wants to see relevant experience rather than a CFA Charter. I still would not say it is not worth the bother. I took the exams at ages 33-35 with no disruption (or benefit) to my career or family (6 kids) and I value the knowledge I gained enough to say that it was well worth it.
    It is really not that difficult and more knowledge is never a bad thing so I’d encourage anyone on the fence to go for it.

  12. That’s the right spirit.
    After all finance knowledge is good.
    Age does not matter at all.
    The most important is what you intend to do with it.

    Aleg Whitfield Reply
  13. Hi to all on this forum/blog. I am a 45+ with an MBA, Bachelors Acc degree and a Hons Bachelors Investment Management degree (2y post graduate degree program) (content similar to CFA Level 1). I now work in the area where finance and IT converge, spent many years prior in Investment and Corporate Banking, advised on structured finance, large project finance deals and originated and sold corporate bond issues to institutional investors and running funding bids with large banks on projects. I always wanted to to do my CFA. However, as many point out, life, family etc. may not afford one the required hours needed to study the material. I feel perhaps now is the time to embark on obtaining my CFA designation, now that the kids are older. Any views and suggestions? I am not looking to up may pay scale by obtaining my CFA. However, would CFA be helpful to broaden job and project prospects going forward. I look fwd to hearing your views.

  14. I have just completed my CFA @ 36, while I was thinking I was too old for CFA, but reading in the others comments on this blog gives me a sense of being not that old to have earned a CFA title. Well CFA as we all know, does give a lot of creditability to the person’s resume, it definitely helps attaining a huge ocean of knowledge and is an incredible testing mechanism to challenge your own abilities. I work in a back office in a private equity firm and want to get to the front end. I am trying my level best and hope I will be able to break in one day. Those of my age having family (with kids!!), mind you its tough to find time to study but I believe with sheer hard work, dedication, personal sacrifice of your family members you will surely be able to crack it. So all the very best!!

  15. @Kanwaljeet- I think your comment will help me.. am almost 31 and have cleared my L1 two years back.was wondering if its worth to go further with L2 and 3 as am working in back office in broking firm. I know for sure that Knowledge is something cant be beaten; level 1 was an example I hope achieving CFA charter does help me ahead in my career

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