GUEST COMMENT: CFA - never again...

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i, Robot

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.