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Six financial services qualifications which could substantially improve your employability

If you’re looking for a job in financial services and can’t get one, or if you’ve got a job in financial services and you want a new one, you may need to increase your allure with a CV upgrade.

We suggest the qualifications below. If you disagree or know of others, please add your suggestions in the comments box at the bottom of the page.

1) The ACA


The ACA will only enhance your employability at an investment bank if you do it at a Big Four accountancy firm, if you have a 2.1 in your first degree from a top university, if you pass first time, and if you’re under 26 when you do it.

“I can’t recall ever seeing the CV of someone applying for a banking who’d done their ACA beyond the age of 25 or 26,” says one recruiter.

Good for:

An ACA will help if you want a job in equity research, corporate finance, or credit analysis, says James Heath at recruitment firm Greenwich Partners.

Bad for:

An ACA will not help if you want a job in sales and trading.

Worse case scenario:

You end up in product control.

2) The MBA


An MBA will only really enhance your investment banking career if it is from one of the top MBA schools in the world and if you do it before you’re around 32.

The Financial Times ranking is here. Ideally, you should be looking at the top 5 (LBS, Wharton, Harvard, INSEAD, Stanford). At a push, you could try the top 10. Don’t expect anywhere else to make a difference.

Good for:

An MBA is good if you want to work in M&A or capital markets. It’s less good if you want to work in sales or trading.

An MBA is also only good if you’re prepared to join an investment bank at a comparatively junior level, as an associate. If you don’t want to follow the established MBA career path, you probably shouldn’t bother.

Bad for:

People with no prior banking experience who mistakenly think two years at Cranfield will get them into the front office.

Worse case scenario:

You spend 40k+ on fees and are still unemployable.

3) An MSc in Petroleum Economics


An MSc in petroleum economics – or indeed any qualification in petroleum economics will help you get into commodities sales and trading, if it’s from a top school. The University of Aberdeen runs a course in the UK.

Good for:

Commodities jobs. Paul Chrispin, a partner in the commodities team at headhunter Principal Search, says postgraduate qualifications in petroleum economics, mining, or chemical engineering are helpful for commodities roles.

Bad for:

Anything not commodities related.

Worse case scenario:

You find yourself on an oil rig.

4) The London Business School’s Master in Finance


The London Business School’s Masters in Finance is good if you’ve already got around five years’ work experience in financial services, want to improve your employability, but don’t want to do an MBA.

Good for:

People who want to move from the back to the front office and who want to work in a sales or trading role.

“Compared to an MBA, the LBS Masters in Finance is a good thing to do if money and time are tight,” says Alex Tracey at markets-focused headhunter CP Partners.

Bad for:

People working in settlements roles who want to move into M&A.

Worse case scenario:

You spend 33k and then do exactly the same job as before.

5) The IMC


The Investment Managers Certificate is a junior fund management qualification which will make absolutely no difference to your employability unless you already have considerable experience on the sellside.

Good for:

People who want to move from an investment bank to an asset management firm and who can’t be bothered to do a CFA.

“It’s pretty entry-level stuff, but an IMC can help show that a sellside person can contextualise what’s required on the buyside,” says Arthur Barington-Ward at search firm Hutton Consulting.

Bad for:

People with no prior experience who think it will make them a fund manager.

Worse case scenario:

You waste time learning what you already know already and decide to stay in banking.

6) MScs focused on risk modelling


You’ll need a good first degree from a respected university. For a risk qualification to truly be effective, you’ll also need knowledge of programming languages such as VBA, Matlab and C++, says Sheldon Paul at risk recruitment firm Cameron Kennedy.

Consider the LSE’s MSc in risk and stochastics.

Good for:

Anyone who wants to work on stress testing, or quantitative risk roles.

Bad for:

Liberal arts graduates.

Worse case scenario:

You end up working in credit risk for a corporate bank.

6a) The CFA


The CFA will only enhance your career if you already work in financial services.

“If you joined in a graduate training programme and are in an analytical role, the CFA can be an excellent career consolidator,” says Arthur Barington-Ward.

Good for:

People already working in equity research or portfolio management who want to ‘consolidate’ their skills and are prepared to relinquish entire weekends. Also handy for people who want to move into asset management from investment banking.

Bad for:

People with no financial services experience who think passing CFA Level 1 will differentiate them from the hundreds of thousands of other people who took the exam last year.

Worse case scenario:

You give up all your free time for around six months to study for the CFA Level 1 and then fail.

Comments (31)

  1. What a cocky judgement, so a MBA has to work in banking and finance?

  2. who you know, not what you know… always has been, always will be.

  3. Also learning to play golf.

  4. Correction to ACA blurb Sarah: I’m 27, audit background big 4, 2.2 and multiple fails, but got a role in M&A within a month of qualification. My advice to any ACA wishing to do the same is to ignore recruiters and apply direct. And be able to tell a good story. That is, after all, what M&A is all about.

  5. Sarah
    BTW there’s seven on that list! Could I assume that CFA wasn’t that important?

  6. I couldn’t agree more with goodluck. Mind you have had dealings with the agent quoted and it doesn’t surprise me that he is way off the mark. I have an ACA and trained with a medium size firm. My first job in banking was in the front office originating project finance deals.

  7. It is hilarious to read the comments about CFA Level 1 exam in the “CFA” section. Level 1 exam is just a screening, those who manage not to pass Level 1 exam are quite simply not good enough . Level 2 and Level 3 exams’ difficulty is MATERIALLY harder. Times harder.

    Investment Banker Reply
  8. and what about the CIIA (Certified International Investment Anal.) awarded by Azek?

  9. @Tim – ah, you’re right. Yes, the CFA was an add on. I had intended to avoid it, but decided it was not possible.

    Sarah, Editor, eFinancialCareers Reply
  10. What a load of rubbish this article is. The information is false, the opinion’s are ignorant and there’s 7 qualification’s listed.

    I don’t really know how you can have a ‘bad for’ with these qualification’s.

    Get any of these, have some good chat and you’ll be fine….

  11. Honestly this article is a load of rubbish. Almost as much substance as your article on whether an MBA is right for you.

    I think readers would appreciate an analysis with a bit more flesh. Not one that I could have at the pub at 1 in the morning with my drunken neighbor.

  12. Is Product Control really a “worse case scenario” for ACAs? I have been doing this for over 5 years and intend to continue for a long time…

    A Product Controller Reply
  13. Something that is not rare cannot be valuable and a lot of useless bankers have these qualifications …… the value of each of these qualifications is close to zero.

  14. The comment about MBA qualification is suspect. Firstly the top 5 schools listed are dynamic and an MBA from anyone of them is no guarantee of a successful career in investment banking. Recruiters are far more sophisticated than to be fooled by a top brand MBA. On the same token, numerous students, including those from Cranfield MBA have done very well in finance. Importantly the Cranfield MBA’s strengths are in the field of strategy and economics and is widely regarded as one of the best business schools in Europe in these fields. The author’s manipulative use of the school’s name is not reflective of respectable journalistic behaviour and robs the article of much needed credibility.

  15. Why had you intended to avoid CFA Sarah, is it not the benchmark financial services qualification. And why did you include MSc Petroleum Economics Sarah, is that not too specialist and if you are to include these, why did you forget to include Certificate in Quantitative Finance (X, Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst (CAIA) and Financial Risk Manager (FRM)?

  16. Do the ACA comments apply interchangeably to other Accountancy qualifications such as CIMA and ACCA?

  17. Has anyone heard of the ICAEW Corporate Finance Qualification?

    I’ve noticed some CF boutiques offering this qualification, so was wondering does it really help you within Corporate Finance?

  18. Yet to interview anyone with CFA who 1) didnt say how difficult it is, yet 2) actually knew anything technical having completed it. Massively overhyped.

    SII diploma man Reply
  19. But why ACA and NOT ACCA??

    I think that there are significant politics behind this “expert” judgement. Both qualifications are prestigious with almost the same level of difficulty. The threshold of 26 yrs is totally unrealistic if you are employed on the Advisory arms of the Big 4s. Counter-arguments will be appreciated !

  20. Every Tom, Dick and Harry has an ACA from the Big Four…. It’s not really a golden ticket to FO IB. Also they accept anyone with a 2.1 and I mean anyone!

    Someone working in a tier 2 IB completing a CFA will be leagues ahead of just another ACA drone.

  21. What of ACCA and CIMA

  22. don’t forget CQF (www.cqf.com)

  23. Armed with one of your listed quality MBAs, I can write that it’s good for much more than a career in investment banking. Yes, maybe sort of a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval that helps open doors in the IB world, but the case method lends itself to problem-solving in a myriad of environments.

    Unfortunately, the UK is generally a land of accountants & people who confuse finance with accounting. (look at how many Finance Directors really are glorified accountants rather than MBAs who have accountants in their team) Like tend to hire like, so the (generally) narrow-thinking accountants edge out the broad-minded MBAs. A lose-lose, really, for I think there’s a place for both.

  24. What about CAIA for alternatives, FRM, ERM or PRMIA for risk management? ERM for Energy and Commodities Risk? CFA as the bottom of the list? I’d employ a CFA graduate over an MBA holder anytime. I know they can do the work and have the discipline to work through one of the toughest programmes in finance. Maybe you should go back to the books and do more research before writing such an article?

  25. Somebody fire whoever wrote this article…. so much ignorance in it…

  26. How about CIMA? Listen yeah, I’m 41 and did my CIMA last year and waiting to get qualifed. I already have trading companies calling me up because they heard I was doing the CIMA, so tell me why the CIMA is up on your list for the best qualifcation in the Finance World of Money Making people. I will qualifed in 2 years but it’s crazy how companies are calling me now to come work and like wow yeh.

  27. I think this article is rubbish…no analysis whatsoever just mention random degree Sarah u can do better!!

    researcher 100 Reply
  28. Well I believe qualification should be sought according to Your career & direction and not as Fashion. I have seen people working as Accounting Lecturers and taking CFA or even full time students. Of course ACA is a Premium qualification which is not limited to big 4 experience. Luck plays the vital role for job.

  29. So what is the conclusion on FRM?

  30. Its quite saddening that the actuarial qualification is not defined! It is highest paid profession and most reputable one

  31. Sarah, your article is simply shocking. Why bother when it’s clear that you know nothing about the qualifications or how they are viewed within the industry? Stick to informing us all about who is paying $

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