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GUEST COMMENT: CFA – never again…

Scenes from the CFA exam room

Scenes from the CFA exam room

You remember that scene in I-Robot where Will Smith chases “Sonny the killer robot” into a warehouse of 1,000 look-alike robots waiting in rows? You do? You now understand the vista at London’s Excel centre on CFA exam day.

To continue this metaphor, you might recall that the 1,000 “ordinary robots” were mindless automatons, with only a basic level operating system and who were only able to answer simple questions. Got it? You now understand how it feels to be a CFA candidate.

At the risk of overdoing the comparison, you can also substitute Will Smith barking orders to the robots for the mindless aggression of the CFA invigilators as they threaten you with ostracisation from the CFA Institute should you dare to do anything they haven’t preordained. You now have got the whole picture.

Yes, I know it’s an exam and they have rules that have to be followed; but I am not a moron or a child. In my opinion the whole CFA experience is a tragedy of “cerebral mindlessness” which the senior people in financial institutions clearly feel that they have to inflict upon their graduates now that they can’t throw phones at them anymore.

Let me explain ‘cerebral mindlessness’, before the pedants among you start screaming oxymoron in your comments. The CFA is hard. I did it and passed level 1 by a fairly comfortable margin (so I glean from its rather prosaic scoring feedback) yet I gained no intellectual pleasure from the experience at all. All it was to me was six months of the most crushingly banal, sanctimonious nonsense I have ever tried to memorise in my life. Its concentration on its own “uber-regulator” ethical standards and the correct use of its designations and trade-marks almost beggars belief.

There is virtually no real world application of large tracts of the text that you have to learn in all their ridiculous minutiae in order to make the grade. If I were a new graduate in the research department I would rather do the sandwich-run and make tea for a year to “learn the business” than be subjected to the CFA Level 1. Come to that I would rather dodge the telephone handsets… The scared “lab-rat” sitting next to me last June was visibly shaking as we sat there. His boss had threatened to fire him if he didn’t pass Level 1 first time (bear in mind that most don’t….)

The CFA course is not a sensible use of virtually anyone’s time. If you want your analyst to analyse companies for you, put them on a course that will teach them that. If you want your private banking hire to have a good all round product knowledge, put them on a course that will teach him that. Enrolment in the CFA sausage machine now seems to be a prerequisite for finance industry newcomers. In fact it is just sado-intellectual nonsense [sic] that City institutions have latched onto in lieu of other ways of beasting their newbies.

The chances are that if a graduate is good enough to have got the job, he or she is probably bright enough to pass CFA exams. But why spend three years making him/her validate your judgement of their ability? Surely they could be doing something more useful instead? As for me…why did I do it? All I can say is don’t ever have a bet with a CFA charterholder when you are drunk if you have any inkling that he might remember your boast in the morning…..

The author works for a City institution and no longer makes idle boasts about his intellectual prowess when out boozing.

Comments (8)

  1. Given the vitriol, I would wager the author passed level 1, but couldn’t get any further. Furthermore, passing level 1 probably hasn’t helped them get out of the back office as they’d hoped it might. It’s not easy and the level of detail is pretty annoying, but it has to be. It is an automaton type test, but show me any other finance-related qualification that isn’t a hoop to jump through these days. You’ve either got it or you haven’t; this person clearly hasn’t…

  2. Agree with other comment on this one, you’ve either got it or you don’t. “CFA Level 1” is not worth squat and doesn’t even mean anything. Yes it’s hard work, if you can’t stomach it that’s life, and that’s why pass rates are so low, and why passing all 3 levels is a recognised achievement. The CFA gives you a broad education and good grounding in finance, but don’t forget it was really designed for research analysts and portfolio managers, which is why things like accounting are a decent chunk of the curriculum. Suck it up!

  3. If you wanted intellect you should have tried out a PHD in some serious topic that might have helped man kind. Dont mistake high earning career for an intellectually challenging one. Sleeping with clients to aquire deals and gambling billions on poor pensioners funds will not get you any intellectual satisfaction.

  4. Who ever claimed that the CFA was an intellectual challenge? You are a dog. Your master wants you to jump through a hoop for a biscuit. Jump, boy, jump. If you don’t like it, run away.

  5. Good article. Apparently the CFA-institute does such a good job proclaiming that their money-making-machine is a “professional standard” that most people swallow that without evening questioning it.

    @BudFox: “…gives you a good grounding in finance”? Well, to register for the CFA-exam, you are required to have a degree and some professional experience. If both of them have not given you any grounding in finance, you are in the wrong place to begin with, and if you expect the CFA to correct that, then you are only to be pitied.

  6. I don’t understand the aggression about CFA. It is a choice, you can take it or leave it. If you don’t take it, why do you try to diminish the value for those who take it? If your company requires you to take level 1, why don’t you simply do it? Surely, if you are such good experts it will be easy to do! If other professions have an industry standard, which has to be passed, why the people who manage our pensions shouldn’t have one?

  7. The CFA program is just the first step. Fact is that a bachelors in business or finance are too light for investment banking / asset management. The designation preaches a lot of useless, now discredited financial dogma. Unfortunately, that dogma is very much used in the industry. After passing the CFA, you must start your own education in finance and read at least two dozen othe books on economics (austrian hopefully), trading, technical analysis, behavioral finance, and event driven strategies. Then, and only then do you have some intellectual grounding to what you are doing. Also, having the stress of losing money, will put your brain on overdrive.

    In short. CFA is the minimum qualification for being in the industry, not the high-water mark.

  8. Mindless aggression is going a bit far.
    I have been an invigilator for the CFA exam three times, and at least thecandidates are allowed to have a break between morning and afternoon, or to leave early, unlike those of us who had to be up at 5 in order to be at the testing center by 6:30, and don’t get to leave again until 5:30, during which time they have nothing to stimulate their minds aside from watching the candidates for signs of cheating, and forcing themselves to smile and be polite even though (judging by certain of yesterday’s candidates) the requirement does not seem to be mutual.

    Remember that before you start complaining,

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